The #metoo movement has spawned a national discussion about serious issues that face so many women. This is a good thing. And yet, I can’t help but feel that the #metoo discussion has not been all-inclusive. Our women face myriad problems, not least of which is sexual abuse and domestic violence. This kind of trauma often leads to things like addiction and homelessness. And yet there are some people who are inclined to think women who are homeless become so of their own accord, their own mistakes, their own poor choices. Our women are judged in a way that the wealthy Hollywood stars who have also been wronged, are not.
The reality is, it’s amazing that women with little to no resources, forgotten by their communities, find the inner strength to keep going. And yet they do. Their will to live and achieve a better life is inspiring. This is why our work is so important.
You won’t see our women in The Washington Post next to the #metoo hashtag, but they have suffered nonetheless. It’s up to us, here at NEW, and all our wonderful, generous donors like you, to remember them, understand their struggles and be a part of their success, not because there is a movement with a hashtag, but just because it’s the right thing to do.
Randolfo Campos came to New Horizons three years ago and began attending NEW’s after-school program called Youth Enrichment Program (YEP) in the basement of his apartment building in Northeast, Washington. “YEP helped me study more and it helped me with time management and organization,” he said.
This year, Randolfo graduated as valedictorian of his McKinley Middle School class with a 3.9 GPA. He heads to Bishop McNamara on a scholarship this fall and intends to become a biomedical engineer when he grows up.
It was Wanda Steptoe, NEW’s Executive Director who initiated YEP in 2013. “I wanted to start YEP because I think it’s a tangible way to make a dent in generational homelessness,” she said. “When kids are successful in school, they get excited about it.”
The additional support and encouragement is imperative to their success. With homework help and instructional games, about a dozen kids a year get extra help. And like Randolfo, they can succeed and dream big too.
Our executive director, Wanda Steptoe, has been speaking around town about NEW and the population that NEW serves. In celebration of International Women’s Day, Wanda spoke at the Junior League of Washington’s Women’s Leadership Breakfast. Hundreds of women gathered at The Hamilton in DC to hear Wanda and three other prominent women speak about finding mentors, informing colleagues about your successes, the #metoo movement and the lack of women in leadership positions. One woman asked Wanda, “How can we help each other and work together if we bring different perspectives to the table?” Wanda answered, “Respect and value what each person brings to the table. And have an open mind.”
In March, Wanda participated in a Catalogue for Philanthropy panel called, Community and Conversations: Women & Girls. She spoke in front of dozens of people about the recent survey that found that one third of homeless women are homeless due to domestic violence.
Volunteers are an instrumental part of any nonprofit and NEW volunteers are no different. We are launching a new, expanded volunteer program here and will be seeking even more volunteers to help with a monthly Game Night. We are also asking for volunteers to help out as a receptionist on the weekends. We are so excited to invite more people to get to know our organization in this way and spread the news about the good work happening here.
Recently, we hosted a couple awesome groups of volunteers at New Transitions, our flagship location and also at our Rachel’s House located in Northeast.
Many women become homeless due to a traumatic life event, a sort of event that many of us could relate to and all of us would find challenging: illness or death of a loved one, loss of a job, a failed relationship or domestic or sexual abuse. The strength it takes to surmount such life curve balls is immense. But NEW alumna, Taniya Johnson was able to find such strength.
“I feel victorious!” she said recently. “I overcame some very hard obstacles.” It was the death of Taniya’s mother and then the dissolution of her marriage shortly there after that left Taniya reeling. “I resorted to drinking,” Taniya said. “And it got really, really bad.” She became homeless. She finally entered an addiction program but she had to convince herself to stay. After 45 days though, she became interested in helping others in their recovery. The only problem was, she still had nowhere to go.
It was a novel idea 30 years ago: Give people more than a bed for the night, give them a chance for a brighter future. In 1988 in DC, most shelters were only emergency shelters, meaning at 7 p.m., people could get dinner and a place to sleep, but by 7 a.m. the next morning, everyone had to be out, dragging all their belongings with them. There were some daytime drop in centers here and there, “but if you were trying to get your life together and find a job, it wasn’t exactly an easy thing,” said Mary Popit, who was the Executive Director of NEW from 1996-2005.
A group of women, including Mary Ann Luby, working in the emergency shelters for women saw this problem first-hand and decided to do something about it. They asked city officials if they could start a transitional housing program, giving women a place to live for three months, allowing them more time to get their lives in order.
The city gave them 611 N Street and some money and the story goes that on July 4, 1988, these women were making up four beds. The next day, four women came through NEW’s doors with a desire to get their lives back on track. Each one got a case manager, an education consultant, an employment professional and a housing professional.
COMING THIS FALL! NEW wants YOU, our DC community, to get to know us better. In September, we will be opening our doors to volunteers for a monthly game night, a fun opportunity to connect with NEW women. Our mandatory first volunteer orientation is September 5. Sign up here!
Our Winter Newsletter, Renewal, has been mailed. In this issue, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of NEW, discuss the implications of domestic violence systems on homeless populations in DC, as well as welcome new Board Members.
On any given night, 882 unaccompanied (single) women are experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia. Think about it: in DC nearly 900 women will be alone, homeless, and often hopeless tonight while we sleep in our warm, cozy beds in our homes.