As part of The Women’s Home’s Housing First pilot program, staff at our permanent supportive housing complex, Jane Cizik Garden Place, have worked diligently to fill and serve the 10 units designated for women who are chronically homeless. We partnered with specific agencies including SEARCH, Mission of Yahweh, Volunteers of America, and the Montgomery County Homeless Coalition to find women in need of our services and who meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of chronically homeless.
According to HUD, for a person to be considered as chronically homeless, she must
- have a disabling condition
- been homeless for a year or more or had four episodes of homelessness in the past three years
- been living in a place not meant for human habitation or in a homeless emergency shelter
- have documentation provided from a third party such as an emergency shelter, homeless outreach worker, or any other health or human services worker.
Today ten women meeting these criteria enjoy living in dignity in their own furnished apartments at our Spring Branch complex. Case management services and application of our WholeLife model of care support them in their endeavors to be autonomous. Each has access to resources in health, job development, legal help, budgeting, and faith-based programs. Six of the 10 women are now employed and two receive Social Security benefits.
Judy, the first chronically homeless tenant, wrote in a letter of thanks, “As days go by, I feel blessed that I do have a place to live and enjoy. So thanks to The Women’s Home…and most of all, God.”
Octavia never imagined she would have to choose between living on the streets and staying in an emergency shelter until she was unexpectedly disrupted from her family. The city of Houston was completely unfamiliar to her, a former California transient. She took refuge at Jane Cizik Garden Place through placement from the Houston Area Women’s Center. Now she wants to serve as a voice for other homeless women.
“I’m thankful for moving here,” she said. “I got some of my independence back.”
Octavia sees life a little differently than she did before moving into the facility five months ago. She has reconciled with her family. She spends quality time with her three grandsons each week. She prays daily for serenity. She works part-time and is actively seeking a full-time job.
Before Rachel found affordable housing at Jane Cizik Garden Place, she lived in several shelters and survived on assistance from SEARCH. “Having my own place is better than where I’ve been,” she said. “Everything is perfect. It’s not like an apartment; it feels more like a home.”
She recently passed the State Board Exam for Dental Assisting through a program sponsored by SEARCH and the Baylor College of Medicine. She studied an entire year to prepare for the 200-question exam.
“It wasn’t easy, but I was determined [to pass],” Rachel said. “The people at Jane Cizik Garden Place encouraged me, and that helped me stay focused. My faith kept me through the whole thing.”
She has completed hundreds of volunteer hours in an externship. Her goal is to buy a home, a car, and become a nurse one day.
Success stories abound at this sober living community of 87-units. Susan, who suffered from years of physical and substance abuse, feels peaceful at her new home. Since staying at Jane Cizik Garden Place, she and many women like her have experienced fewer hospitalizations, less crises, and are more productive and stable, evidence that supportive housing is an economically viable solution for ending homelessness.
“We’re meeting the women where they are, honoring and respecting where they have come from and how they show up to us,” said Cayman Tirado, case counselor. “We’re looking at the cards that we have in front of us and strategizing with the client on where they want to go and how we can support them to get there.”
For Octavia that means providing the resources she needs to make her goal of moving on a reality. Although she likes her apartment, she wants to give another woman a chance to live where she has lived, to become self-directed.
“I want to pass the torch along to someone who’s walked in my shoes,” she said. “Maybe they can gain their independence too.”