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.
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.
In a region full of overachievers, Areej Khan and Palak Shah still impress with the generosity and magnitude of their clear-eyed vision.
Khan and Shah are high school seniors who saw the need and came up with the idea of Clean Kits. They now regularly collect, assemble, and donate hygiene kits to homeless women. Which is how we met them—they approached and donated 170 kits, each containing a bar of soap and 10 tampons and pads. Read more
Cynthia Rowe — who will be recognized with the NEW Light Alumna Award at our gala next month — busts many stereotypes that persist about the homeless. She is educated, has a daughter about to graduate college, worked at big name companies that provided retirement plans. She comes from a large family with whom she is still very much in touch. And although she may not have had a consistent roof over her head while homeless, she was never without safe shelter. “I couch-surfed,” she says matter-of-factly.
So what is her story? How does someone with that many factors in favor of stability come to NEW? Read more
Our executive director, Wanda Steptoe said something moving last month when the first shoots of determined green emerged in the first flush of spring. “Like the tulips,” she said, “the women of are always pushing forward insistently, bent on showing their beauty and thriving in the world around us.” Read more
The words “remarkable” and “survivor” routinely apply to NEW alumna. Even so, Petrina Williams breaks the mold. Like many NEW alumna, Williams, now a NEW board member, has been through challenges that would fell the rest of us. Yet as she talks about her experiences with matter-of-fact honesty, she radiates happiness and a joy for living. For example, her outgoing voicemail message, where you can practically hear her smile, invites you to “Have a great day—on purpose!” No doubt, it is that upbeat attitude that has carried Williams through life. And what a life it has been. Read more
We know it doesn’t take much, and yet, we are always surprised how little separates us from the homeless—a job loss, medical bills, a bad marriage. It can happen to anyone of us. Then we get to know the people whose fortunes took a poor turn. And we realize they aren’t always troubled people who were already on thin ice. Read more