The Light House helps turn lives around
Reenae’s once-tranquil life has been a wild rollercoaster ride the past couple of years. But following a yearlong plunge, it’s been on the upswing this year, thanks to her own determination and to The Light House, a homeless prevention center in Annapolis.
Reenae hit rock bottom this past winter. Following disputes with her then-fiancé and with her parents, the 28-year-old mother of three was jobless, pregnant and homeless — living in her van with her three children, all younger than 5 at the time. “It was kind of hard for me to realize that, ‘Hey, I’m sleeping in a van with my kids’,” she says, smiling grimly during an interview. “I felt like I was at the bottom of my … I don’t even know what to call it. But I was really down there.”
In February she contacted The Light House. The very next day she was accepted into the organization’s homeless shelter on Hudson Street, and her upward climb began.
During the next few months, Reenae graduated from the shelter to transitional housing in her own apartment on West Street, gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and landed a good, stable job at a Columbia tech company.
Reenae still has a way to go to dig out of the hole she found herself in: old debts to pay off; a house of her own to move into; the return of her oldest child, now 6, who was living with Reenae’s parents in Glen Burnie; perhaps reconciliation with her ex-fiancé. But things have taken a huge turn for the better. “I worked through it all, with some help,” she says. “And now everything’s on the up-and-up.”
A range of services
The Light House has been helping homeless families and individuals return to the “up-and-up” for more than a quarter-century.
Over the years it has grown dramatically and now operates out of a three-story headquarters on Hudson Street. The top two floors are a shelter, with space for 45 individuals and 10 families with up to 20 children. The first floor includes staff offices, a well-stocked food pantry, and a full-service kitchen that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. A playground is outside for the children living there.
The organization also offers a wide range of services aimed at helping the homeless get back on their feet, including transitional housing; 14-week job training classes in culinary arts and in maintenance and landscaping; and “soft-skills training” in workplace preparation, communication and job searching.
The Light House also offers — no questions asked — free bagged lunches, showers, free laundry services, health screenings; counseling; and other services to whomever drops by looking for help, homeless or not.
“We try to both pull people out of homelessness and keep people from becoming homeless,” says Lara Ippolito, The Light House’s associate director of communications. “We want to stop the cycle of homelessness.”
In many ways, Reenae is not the typical Light House client, says Lisa Travis, director of clinical services for the organization. Reenae has three years of college education and well-educated parents. Travis says other clients often have mental health issues, some type of disability, drug problems, criminal backgrounds, bad credit — a seemingly endless list of potential obstacles to leading a successful, stable life. While Reenae had none of those issues, she was, if only for a few weeks, homeless, jobless, pregnant and living on the street with her children — a rarity in Anne Arundel County.
The most recent “point-in-time” survey by the Anne Arundel and Annapolis Coalition to End Homelessness, taken in August of this year, found 281 homeless people in the county, including 67 children, according to Brian Schleter, public information officer for the county Department of Social Services.
Most of the homeless were in a shelter or transitional housing, the survey found, but 91 were living on the street. That number might not be exact, Schleter says, as some homeless people could have been missed. None of those found living on the street were children. All of the numbers are slightly lower than the previous year, Schleter says.
Travis describes Reenae as “hard-working and determined,” one reason she was able to bounce back fairly quickly.
“It’s a credit to Reenae that she found work and got into transitional housing so quickly,” Travis says. “To raise four young kids by yourself, that’s huge.”
The help The Light House provided was essential in the young mother’s turnaround. Besides giving her and her children somewhere to live, case managers helped her connect with essential services, such as Medicaid, food stamps and day care for her children. They assisted in her job search and offered group therapy sessions with other shelter mothers that gave the young mother a big boost. “It really helped me mentally,” Reenae says of the therapy sessions. “We were all there, in the same place, and that just made me feel better. We could talk about our problems, figure out our plans together.”
As she sat in an office in The Light House’s Hudson Street headquarters, feeding her 4-month old youngest child while her two middle children played outside on the playground, Reenae reflected on her difficult couple of years and also looked to the future, with more hope than she’s had in some time.
She says she will always be grateful for the help she got from The Light House.
“I knew about Light House growing up. I just never thought I’d actually need it,” she says. And while she hopes to never need that help again, she added, “I know that it’s here, so that’s always a blessing.”
Besides her own personal goals for the future, Reenae says she’d like to “give back” one day, helping others in her situation.
“When I get myself together, I’m going to do that — maybe as a motivational speaker,” she says. “[After] what I went through, I think I would be good at that.”
by Pete Pichaske
For a related story on the Light House Bistro, click here.