After launching successful programs and initiatives at the likes of Big Brothers Big Sisters and TechBridge, Julio Carrillo brought his leadership to nonprofit Families First, where he experienced something that changed the trajectory of his career. It was the beginning of January, and Carrillo noticed a family of four going in and out of his office building lobby several times that week.
One of the family members was an eleven-year-old boy, who one day walked up to the leader.
“He said, ‘I’m homeless and we’ve been sleeping in that car,’” Carrillo recalls. The boy pointed to it. Carrillo could barely see inside because of the way it was packed with bags and luggage. For Carrillo, a Colombian immigrant who came to the US for opportunity and to escape dangerous conditions in his home country, that moment shattered beliefs he had about America.
Who HOPE Atlanta Serves
In FY2022, Hope Atlanta served 7,456 people, many of whom are in one or more special populations:
- 349 were domestic violence victims
- 1,995 were persons with disabilities
- 1,151 were veterans
- 1,834 with alcohol and substance use disorders
- 3,277 with behavioral health issues
Source: HOPE Atlanta, July 2023
“We have misconceptions about what homelessness looks like,” he says. “I thought I saw it all and thought a homeless person was someone under a bridge, not well-spoken children in cars. As an immigrant, I had a different view of what America looked like but as I dove deeper, I discovered another world. I saw a need for support systems for people like them.”
Carrillo learned that the family’s homelessness started with an ill mother who couldn’t work and a breadwinning father who was laid off. He also learned about the complex system they’d have to navigate and the obstacles they’d face as they sought relief. He thought of those things when he was approached by HOPE Atlanta, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness.
Serving as the organization’s CEO came as a chance to not only serve the homeless but also prevent individuals from getting to that point and from being like the family he helped, who had to choose between their next meal and gas to keep their car warm.
“It took several weeks for us to get that family help, and we had to pay out of pocket to do it,” he says. “So, I said to myself, ‘If I have the opportunity to do this kind of work at HOPE Atlanta, then I could really make an impact.’”
He spent his first fifteen months learning and educating himself to understand how the organization’s work fits into its community. He also spent time meeting with stakeholders, clients, and staff about its mission.
The mission is clear: the best way to reduce homelessness is by preventing it altogether.
That’s why Carrillo and his colleagues have focused on understanding the underlying factors that lead to homelessness and giving individuals access to intense case management that aims to “build resiliency and equips people for the rainy days.”
“We see that behavioral health is really impacting homelessness, and we want to make sure those we serve have a place to talk to someone,” he says.
Partnerships have been important for rounding out the organization’s holistic strategy. Carrillo says the team has worked with workforce development organizations to direct individuals toward training opportunities, financial institutions to educate them on managing money, and health organizations to teach healthy eating and lifestyles. The goal has been to “make sure people can become self-sustainable once they have housing.”
As a leader, Carrillo prides himself on having a passion for diversity, and he understands how vital it is for achieving desired goals.
“Throughout my career, I’ve recognized that the world is moving so fast. The biggest lesson has been that no matter what business or organization you’re in, you need to surround yourself with diverse individuals and leaders who can challenge you and provide advice,” he says. “That has helped me grow and overcome obstacles. I’ve had to face a pandemic, a recession, and other major challenges in my career, but being intentional around the diverse individuals I hire has helped me and my organizations succeed.”
Leaders who wish to lead as effectively as Carrillo should understand that sometimes, less is more.
“As CEOs, we have to scale and grow, and to do that, we need to focus on doing a few things very well and that’ll help,” he says. “Then, you have to be adaptable, innovative, and always ask questions about how to make things better.”
Chef Julio Carrillo
Outside of work, Julio Carrillo loves cooking. It’s not only a way to decompress but also an outlet that allows him to challenge himself and be creative. His favorite dish to make is paella, which can include, rice, onions, peppers, seafood, and wine. While the cooking process can be lengthy, the leader assures that the dish is worth the wait.
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