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State News

March 19, 2013

Alabama shelter to address rise in homeless women

MONTGOMERY — Plumbing is needed. So are showers. Working toilets. And beds.

But the dream of Pastor Vincent Rosato sits soundly on Chisholm Street — a women’s shelter he hopes will open in July. It has been his vision for years. It has been a need in the community even longer.

The approximately 40,000-square-foot property, sitting among dilapidated homes and itself in need of much renovation, eventually will house up to 50 single women and at least 15 to 20 women with children, depending on the size of the family.

“The Lord never deserted us,” said Rosato, pastor of the Friendship Mission, a homeless shelter for men on Mobile Highway. “You can’t ignore the expense, but you can’t stop it. Once you get into it, it grows slowly, but it grows.”

Tammy Middleton, the shelter’s director, said the shelter is not a “hand-out shelter,” but rather a “hand-up” shelter.

The ultimate goal is for the women to go through programs and get back on their feet. But even if they find jobs and are making minimum wage — or even $9 or $10 an hour — they are still paying for day care if they have children and cannot afford several hundred dollars each month for rent.

“The demographics have changed over the past five years,” Middleton said. “Homeless women in the shelters used to be drug addicts and alcoholics.”

Now, she said, many of the homeless women she sees are women who five years ago “had jobs, apartments, were taking care of their children.”

But after working for minimum wage and often having to pay for day care while they did, many eventually found themselves without homes.

Women will not be charged to stay in the 15,000-square-foot main building, but will be charged if they move into either of two adjacent buildings that offer apartment-style living. Rent there will be based on what they can pay, Middleton said.

“We don’t want to keep them in here forever, but we don’t want to get them in here and rush them back out the door,” she said. “We have some women we know that will probably come in here and stay until they die.”

All of this is coming at a cost.

The facility cost $125,000. The Friendship Mission paid $62,500 for the women’s shelter, and First Baptist Church paid the other half — their purchase includes two houses on the property and a high school-sized gymnasium that they have rented for years from Montgomery Mental Health for GED programs and other programs such as those focusing on young mothers.

At the women’s shelter — also previously owned by Montgomery Mental Health — a hot-water tank that will equip the kitchen, a couple of apartments and the laundry room will cost about $10,000. Middleton said $75,000 is needed to get the bare essentials taken care of before the shelter can open.

The goal is to have the main 15,000-square-foot building open first. Following that, and after more funds are secured, they will start renovating the apartments, Middleton said.

The low-end budget for operating costs every month for the women’s shelter will be about $35,000, Rosato said. A main expense is food. Not only will the women and children be fed, but the community.

“In Chisholm ... there’s a lot of elderly in this area,” Middleton said while walking through the shelter. “They’ve lived here for about 50 years. We hope to find those people, those who might not be able to come here and eat. We could pack up food and bring it to them and minister to them. They don’t have a car to get to the shelter to eat. Or even $2 to take the bus.”

In the women’s shelter, there are 12 two-bedroom units in the main building and 24 in the adjacent buildings. The building will include a kitchen, dining room, laundry room and a room they hope can be filled with fitness equipment. The facility can fit six women per unit. Middleton said they are trying to separate living areas between single women and women with children.

One thing the shelter will be able to provide that no other does, Middleton said, is occupancy for mothers with older sons.

“You have to keep the boys separate,” she said. “If you have a mom with a 15-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter, they can’t go into a shelter where they are in the room together,” she said.

“Here we can set up a bedroom for the boy. We have a lot of moms out there with older boys. They are on the streets. And those are the women who end up prostituting and doing things they wouldn’t normally do just to get a $25 hotel room.”

There also will be an emergency overflow room. When police show up with women who need a place to stay, there will be shelter for them.

“With kids, you can’t have them staying together in a room for a long time,” Middleton said of merging children with single women. “But if it’s in the middle of the night, an emergency situation, overnight is OK.”

For almost 30 years, Rosato has manned homeless shelters for men, and his greatest desire always has been to have shelters that could house women.

“This has been my dream,” Rosato said. “For nine years, I’ve prayed. I remember last year being real down because the Lord wouldn’t give it to me. I asked, ‘Why?’ because the need was so great. It was just a miracle that our board accepted it, because we really didn’t have the finances to do it.”

 

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