By LINDA M. LINONIS
The Over the Edge fundraiser for Beatitude House symbolizes the plunge into a new life that 4,000 homeless mothers and children have taken since the faith-based organization was founded in 1991.
Over the Edge is an urban adventure of rappelling down the Metropolitan Building downtown. A Light Up the Night evening rappel and Welcome Walk will take place Friday, and a daytime rappel Saturday. Last year, Sister Janet Gardner, executive director of Beatitude House, rappelled; this year, it is Sister Mary Alyce Koval.
Recently, Sister Patricia McNicholas, senior development officer; Julia Pisansky, development associate; and Sister Janet, who became executive director in summer 2013, discussed the organization. This year marks the ministry’s 25th anniversary.
Through this safe haven, many homeless mothers secure housing, get their General Educational Development diploma and take educational courses to prepare for employment while children attend school. Their lives stabilize. “Homelessness covers a wide range of the population,” Pisansky said. “We have all types of clients.”
“About 40 percent come from situations of domestic violence,” Sister Janet said.
Some homeless women also face barriers of mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction. Previously, those with addiction problems were not accepted. That changed because of U.S. Housing and Urban Development rules about “no barriers to housing who need it the most,” Sister Janet said.
HUD is focusing on permanent housing because those in transitional housing are still considered homeless, she added.
“Education is the key to get out of poverty,” Sister Janet said. “These women work to attain the skills to move their families into the middle class.”
Sister Janet said the Beatitude House program is “client-centered.” Women attend group and individual counseling sessions and parenting programs, work on debt reduction and budgeting, and services for children to ensure healthy development.
“Lisa,” a 36-year-old mother of four children 5 years and younger and an 18-year-old, found herself at Sojourner House to escape an abusive relationship. “It was a wonderful Christmas present,” she said, noting the family was accepted into the Beatitude House two days before Christmas 2015.
Lisa worked as a merchandiser and was a student. Slowly, but surely, her abusive significant other isolated her and made her financially dependent. “He abused us physically, emotionally and mentally,” she said, adding she would relent to his apologies. The turning point was when he tried to stab her; she has a restraining order. She had lived in another state and returned to Ohio to be near family. Her abuser followed.
“We’re safe now,” Lisa said. She is working as a secretary at a local company; her young children are in day care. “I’m working on going back to school, paying on student loans,” she said. “You feel a sense of family here,” Lisa said.
In Beatitude’s transitional housing, Sister Janet said women stay from six to eight months.
To secure permanent housing, Sister Janet said, women often face “multiple obstacles.” These include mental health, developmental and/or chemical-dependency disabilities, utility and rent debt, legal issues, lack of education and job readiness.
Sister Janet said Beatitude programs help women secure permanent housing while they attend school or work. Permanent supportive housing is for women with disabilities or who have children with disabilities.
“We collaborate with various agencies,” Pisansky said of how issues are addressed. “They begin to feel normal, safe and better adjusted.”
“When the children see their mothers doing better, they do better because they feel stable,” Sister Janet said. “The support, resources and security that Beatitude House programs provide makes a real difference in their lives.”
Pisansky said, “Case managers work with women to set goals.” The support the women receive generates support for one another, she said. “Women in the program tell those coming in that ‘this is their chance.’”
Sister Patricia, executive director from 2001 to 2013, knows firsthand the success of Beatitude programs. Now it’s her role to seek out funding from various community sources including churches. She often speaks to civic and religious groups, who give monetary gifts and donations of various supplies.