Subsidized supportive housing is an important step to lift people out of a cycle of poverty and homelessness. People in need are provided a second chance place to live with all or a portion of the rent provided for them for a period of time. In addition, they receive mentoring and education to help them learn how to manage their money more effectively, set goals, improve their credit score, and acquire new job skills to increase their income potential. When they graduate from the program the hope is that they leave with some savings in the bank, better job opportunities, and enhanced life skills.
House of Dreams in Smyrna is supported by the SVdP Conference of St Thomas the Apostle and has helped around 100 women achieve financial stability. Up to 8 mature women (ages 35-55) share 2, 3-bedroom apartments at any one time. Each resident is assigned a mentor to work on her personal goals and while the residents are free to leave at any time they are permitted to stay up to 6 months. Once they are working, each woman is expected to contribute towards her rent.
“While some of these ladies are educated and just have a temporary setback, others only have a basic high school education that limits their earning potential, explains Laura Gibbs, volunteer Program Director for over 19 years. “Often they have to work 2 to 3 jobs just to make ends meet because of their financial obligations. Most still want to make it on their own without a roommate, but then they are just a pay check away from falling behind on rent or car -payment. Many choose to pay for the car, since at least that keeps them mobile to keep a job and it gives them a temporary roof over their heads. I’ve learned that in order for the ladies to change their circumstances, they need to acquire new skills, practice better money management, and temporarily lose some of their privacy in order to get to where they need to be. Some sacrifices are needed if they want to be self -sufficient again because if they keep on doing what they have been doing, they will keep on getting what they have been getting.”
Laura works with a group of dedicated volunteers that meet with the ladies on a weekly basis. “While none of our volunteers have ever been homeless, I believe that as Christians we simply want to help others by sharing our experiences, talents, and gifts. We don’t need anything from the ladies in return for our time and service, but thankfulness and appreciation are always nice to have. We recognize that some women lack the capacity to give even that, so we find comfort in knowing we are making a positive difference in their lives.”
“As volunteers, we get a lot out of it too. I’ve found that when I deliver a lesson to the ladies on a subject such as fear, ambition, respect, etc. I am also speaking and encouraging myself. In other words, as I teach them about valuable topics, I am also reminding and encouraging myself so I can be a better person. It is a win-win.”
St. Michael’s House in Canton provides a home for 2 single women with young children to live and work to improve their families’ future. It is supported by the SVdP conference at St Michael the Archangel with profits generated by the SVdP Kennesaw Thrift Store.
John and Lori O’SuIlivan were volunteering as SVdP caseworkers when they were inspired at a church retreat to do more for young mothers in need. They created the idea for St. Michael’s House and have served as its directors for the past 18 years. Over the years they have helped improve the lives of over 30 women and 45 kids. “This program gives me such joy,” says Lori, “I am excited with every new call and the chance to change a life.”
St Michael’s House looks for women who are ready to do the difficult work to change. Volunteer mentors work with the women on every aspect of their life from money management, employment, cooking, cleaning, organization, parenting, setting goals, and planning for the future. The women live rent free but are expected to accumulate substantial savings during their stay which can last up to 2 years. They must show continual progress to remain a resident.
Every new resident arrives happy and grateful for the opportunity. “I call this the honeymoon period”, says Lori. “Then reality sets in and the friction starts. Often they resent the intrusion and the accountability. It’s hard to undo 20 years of thinking and the influence of family and friends that helped put them in the position where they are. Although it seems intrusive at the time in the end most of the women look back at this as a necessary step to make lasting, positive change in their lives.”
Tesheema is a graduate of the program at St Michael’s House and has served as a mentor to some of the women. “I tell them that I know it’s hard but to just trust the program and everything will work out.” Tesheema entered the program as a homeless, single mother with three children. She is now married and a homeowner!
Another resident, who had been homeless since the age of 18, arrived at St Michael’s House at age 24 with a newborn baby. She left at age 26 with a new job, a car, and the ability to live independently with a roommate.
Thank you Lori, Laura, John, and all the volunteer mentors at House of Dreams and St Michael’s House who are working to end homelessness. You are our Housing Heroes!