Community Partners Support Housing & Health for Area Homeless

George McCanless is on a mission.

McCanless, the head of the United Way of Central Georgia, worked with the county to launch the Brookdale Warming Center, which caters to Macon-Bibb County’s homeless population.

Since the Warming Center opened in January 2021, it has sheltered well over 600 people.

“I think the community had noticed that there was a growing homeless population in Bibb County, as evidenced by the number of homeless people downtown,” McCanless said.

The former Brookdale Elementary School is the location for the Warming Center and  McCanless said that location decision was made by Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller.

“Being a former school board member he [the Mayor] knew that Brookdale Elementary had been decommissioned by the school system. He had the idea of ‘let’s use that school as a place where the homeless people that want to get out of the cold have a place to go,” McCanless said.

But the shelter ran into a few bumps on the road in terms of the Macon-Bibb County government’s ability to manage it, according to McCanless. 

“The challenge was once they [the government] got into it, they saw how much of a need was there for homeless care. But the Mayor was astute enough to know that the city of Macon or the government was not the best entity to run a homeless shelter,” McCanless said. From there, Mayor Lester Miller reached out to the United Way of Georgia, which is how it eventually acquired the Warming Center.

McCanless envisioned the Center to be more than just a homeless shelter. This led to the Warming Center being renamed to the “Brookdale Resource Center.” 

“Both of our visions, mine and the Mayor’s, it’s not just a “homeless shelter” so to speak.  That is why we changed the name to “resource center,” McCanless said. “It is intended to be a place where people in this community do not have to sleep outside, but they can also get the help they need to get into stable housing.”

McCanless said the resource center offers job services along with home placements. 

“We have over a 100 people so far who have come to Brookdale and found new jobs. A little over 60 [people] we helped find permanent places to live,” McCanless said. 

Moving forward into 2022, McCanless has ambitious goals for the Resource Center. His first goal includes growing the Resource Center’s capacity to at least 250 people. The center currently has a 150-person capacity.

“To do that, we’ll obviously need some physical upgrades,” he said.

McCanless mentioned wanting to use some of Macon’s American Rescue Plan money to help with the upgrades. According to 13WMAZ, the Macon-Bibb County Commission voted to fund the center with $4 million of ARP money. 

“Part of the money will be to buy new metal-framed beds and mattresses that will have a lot longer sustainability than these cots we’ve had,” McCanless said. 

The Center’s restrooms are also getting an upgrade. 

“We’re converting the boys and girl’s restrooms into men’s and women’s showers that will be inside,” McCanless said. The current showers are portable and outside, which McCanless believes can be a challenge for center residents.

Starting next year, the Center will also begin providing its own meals to residents, rather than buying meals from outside vendors. He explained that Brookdale Elementary School was a school built when every school had a full capacity cafeteria. According to McCanless, much of the cafeteria’s equipment had been “stripped out,” but that is changing next year.

“The city is going to go back and bring the cafeteria back up to full operational capacity, which means we can prepare the meals there without having to pay a third party to prepare them,” McCanless said. “Not only will this help reduce the cost of the meals but it will allow us to afford to give them a little bit better meals as well.” 

McCanless mentioned that he will also seek to hire case workers and other staff appropriate to maintain a 250-person facility  He says he will seek out state funding to cover the costs of expansion.

And finally, McCanless wants to give people over-night shelter on a case-by-case basis in the school’s gymnasium.

“The gymnasium at the school is not being used. If we can get the funding, what we would like to do is turn that into the ‘warming center.’ During the cold months, if folks don’t want to come live at Brookdale but want to get out of the cold for the night, we’d be able to house 50-60 people just on an overnight basis,” McCanless said. “They could come in, get out of the elements, get a good night’s sleep, get a good meal and then they’d be on their own.”  

McCanless set the timeline for his initiatives for six to 12 months over the course of the next year. 

More information about the Resource Center can be found at