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Faith and Financing Create Better Care for Atlanta's Homeless

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·8 min read
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Northampton, MA --News Direct-- Truist

Mercy Care street team
Mercy Care street team

People start lining up outside of Mercy Care as early as 6 a.m. They’re hoping for help at one of the few walk-in health care spots in the clinic. Steve Siler sees them on his way into the office. Sometimes they’ll hold the door for him. They’re always in need. But that’s why he’s there.

Siler, the president of the Mercy Care Foundation, has the job of raising money to support Atlanta’s only health care for the homeless program. “I’m a connector in Atlanta between the poorest of the poor and the wealthy donors who we’re inviting to support this mission,” he says.

Going between these two worlds is one of the most challenging parts of his job. One minute he’s looking into the eyes of a man who might not have seen a dentist or doctor in decades; the next minute he’s having coffee with someone he hopes will help him raise $22 million.

That’s the price tag for Mercy Care’s latest project to serve Atlanta’s neediest and most vulnerable population: $22 million. The nonprofit community health care provider is expanding their headquarters building, adding new clinic space, building 270 units of supportive housing, and doubling the patient intake capacity at their Decatur Street facility. Mercy Care predicts the expansion, slated to be finished in early 2022, will allow them to serve 3,000 more behavioral health patients, 4,000 more dental patients, and 1,000 more vision patients.

To achieve all this, they need a complex mix of support—including the help of Truist, their long-standing community banking partner. Truist recently announced it will help Mercy Care as part of its $300 million multiyear investment pledge to Atlanta. That’s where Joe Arnold’s group at Truist comes in.

Rooted in Atlanta

Joe Arnold manages the not-for-profit and government banking division at Truist. But he also has a long history with Atlanta.

He was born at Grady Hospital and grew up in vibrant Vine City, just west of downtown. It was an all African American neighborhood, and it was mixed income, with white- and blue-collar families living together. He lived next door to a college professor on one side and someone who put down asphalt on the other. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family lived a block and a half away. The neighborhood kids would meet up in the grass outside the health care clinic to play football.

“We didn’t know what wealth looked like until we went off to college,” he says.

After graduation, the top three banks in Atlanta tried to recruit him, but one stood out: Trust Company. Even though it was the smallest of the three and didn’t offer the highest salary, all his mentors said he should take it, so he did. (Trust Company became SunTrust and is now Truist.)

“The culture is special. That’s why I’ve been at the company for 40 years now,” Arnold says. He saw what happened with colleagues at more cutthroat Wall Street banks, where people hide their work from each other and are only in it for themselves. “You’re treated well here, and everyone has a team-like approach to the work.”

After an early career in corporate and investment banking, Arnold was eager to pursue community-oriented banking in his hometown.

“Serving the nonprofit space, we’re usually the only bank for our clients,” he says. “They don’t have access to the equity markets. If we don’t get them the money, many of them won’t grow.”

When Mercy Care came to Truist to figure out how they could expand, Arnold was prepared to get the job done.

“We pride ourselves on being local, and raising our sleeves and really digging in to come up with a solution,” Arnold says. That means coming up with financial plans for a $22 million New Markets Tax Credit transaction and a capital stack that would include $6.5 million of tax credit equity from Truist Community Capital, a $9.6 million Truist bridge loan. The Truist Foundation Inc., a nonprofit corporation, also made a $200,000 charitable grant to Mercy Care.

It’s a project that helps Mercy Care fulfill its mission of giving health care in the spirit of loving service to those in need. It also fulfills Truist’s purpose to inspire and build better lives in communities.

Facing the moment of truth every day

Originally, from Cincinnati, Ohio, Siler began his career in Atlanta and served as a youth leader at his church, eventually becoming a teacher and coach at a private Catholic school. When he had the opportunity to work in development for the school, he jumped on it. “I wanted to be a member of the leadership team and influence the school at a more macro level,” he says.

Since then, Siler’s career has focused on helping nonprofits. “I knew that no matter what I was doing within the organization, I needed to work for an organization with a mission I believed in,” he says.

Caring for others is what keeps Siler going—even though it’s not always easy. “I'm a person of faith, and my faith calls me to serve others and put them first and love without counting the cost,” he says. But serving others can be a hard choice every day.

“Believe me, my first impulse is not always to serve. I’ll get home from work, and there’s a moment where I can say to my wife, ‘Julie, how can I help?’ or I can just go slip onto the couch. It’s this moment of truth every day.”

One way Siler has found to make that moment of truth easier is through cultivating relationships. Surrounding himself with people who care as much as he does helps him focus and make better choices. The right relationships can nourish a shared purpose. And when it comes to bold community work, relationships build into like-minded teams that don’t take no for an answer.

Sharing a mission and values

Mercy Care’s relationship with Truist goes back to Phil Humann, the SunTrust president from 1992 to 2004 who helped create the culture of community engagement that lives on today. Just in Atlanta, there are over 160 nonprofit organizations that have a Truist member on the board, according to Jenna Kelly, president of the Georgia region for Truist.

Those relationships make it easier to communicate and activate the team—from caregivers to the financial backend.

Three years ago, CEO of Mercy Care Tom Andrews gave Truist a call.

“I think it’s time to start talking,” Andrews said. Mercy Care wanted to expand their Decatur Street clinic and create 270 supportive housing units. They had purchased the land and needed help financing the expansion.

“Just like any project, the client identifies the need,” says Kelly. “Our job is to help them make it happen.”

Teamwork makes the clinic work

Arnold’s team started working with the Mercy Care team to figure out the best way to finance the project. Truist handles Mercy Care’s financial portfolio and has a big-picture view of the financial possibilities and what will be required to bankroll the project in the most cost-effective ways.

“These projects are very complicated,” says Keitt King, head of Truist Community Capital. The mix of loans, investments, fundraising, and gifts is a financial balancing act that requires depths of banking expertise and access to large amounts of capital.

Siler jokes there’s a small army of people tending to Mercy Care’s accounting needs. “It’s a pretty tangled web but one that’s supportive and extraordinarily helpful to us. I feel very supported by the organization.” Whenever he feels a need, he knows he can reach out.

“A lot of work goes into it, but we’re able to do what we can do because we’re serving with purpose,” King says.

Chris Leutzinger, relationship manager of new market tax credits at Truist and part of the team handling the financing, adds, “Truist knows the impact Mercy Care has on the community. We love going in and seeing the excitement on their faces about creating best-in-class health care.”

That health care is now going to be even better, thanks to the partnership.

Caring for one life at a time

The line that starts forming in the early mornings outside of the Decatur clinic can contain mostly the poor and uninsured. Mercy Care says 77% of its patients are uninsured and 64% live below the poverty line. But Mercy Care’s mission is to provide care and compassion without judgment.

Every day, even in the hottest Atlanta summer days, workers in Mercy Care’s street medicine program go under bridges and look into sidewalk tents to offer care for people experiencing homelessness.

These patients’ financial status doesn’t disqualify them from receiving mercy, says Siler.

“They’re children of God. They're down and out,” he says. “For whatever reason, they’ve found themselves in a circumstance, and they need our help. That’s not to say we’re not going to try to help them make better decisions to solve their problems. But it’s saying we’re not going to withhold care or love.”

Read more On Purpose stories about how Truist teammates are living out our purpose, mission, and values to serve our clients, teammates, and communities.

View additional multimedia and more ESG storytelling from Truist on 3blmedia.com

View source version on newsdirect.com: https://newsdirect.com/news/faith-and-financing-create-better-care-for-atlantas-homeless-971080247