Transitional housing brings hope to moms

A 30-year-old woman glanced back and forth between her computer and a textbook last week as her books and study materials sprawled on the floor in front of her.

She was studying for classes in a community college's medical office administration program. She's hoping to make a better life for her and her 10-year-old son.

"I came too far to give up," she said.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, is the first to move into a house run by Cooperative Christian Ministry's new Mothers and Children Housing Ministry. The house, which opened this month on Spring Street in Concord, will provide emergency and transitional housing for mothers and their children who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.

The nonprofit hopes to provide mothers with a stable environment in which they can establish their financial stability to eventually become independent and be able to support their children.

Ed Hosack, executive director of CCM, said limited resources forced the organization and its emergency network to turn away more than 100 women requesting shelter last year.

CCM has seen an increase in the number of women seeking help - a trend brought on by the breakdown of the traditional family unit and an increase in the number of single mothers, as well as high unemployment, said Hosack.

"Any stereotype you have about these mothers is probably all wrong," he said.

The loss of a job or spouse often pushes mothers to make decisions that might not be in the best interest of their children, he said.

"We're trying to stop the cycle of decisions made out of desperation," said Hosack.

Neatly folded, bright quilts lie on the beds in wait for new families, and teddy bears sit by the pillows waiting for the children that will lay their heads there. Another family - a young mother with six children - was expected to move in soon.

About 50 people attended a July 1 ribbon cutting ceremony and toured the house, going room to room to admire the facility, which will house five mothers and their children and a "house mother" to watch over the residents.

A two-car garage was converted into a playroom, and a fenced-in area in the backyard was created as a safe place for children to play.

In one room, a crib was set up for a woman expected to move in with her infant.

The crib was donated recently by a woman who heard about the new ministry, said Kimberly Brown, CCM's resource development director.

"She drove up in her SUV and got out with two kids," said Brown. She said, 'I've got something for you. I've been in these shoes before, and I know what it's like to be homeless.'"

Then the woman and her children helped carry the crib inside.

When families move into the house soon, there won't be any moving vans, said Hosack. The neighbors might not even notice that new residents have arrived.

"In some cases, it'll just be the clothes on their backs and a suitcase and maybe a teddy bear," said Hosack.

Hosack said CCM has been planning the ministry for more than two years, but was just recently offered the Spring Street house by Forest Hill United Methodist Church. The church agreed to lease the house to CCM for $1 a year.

Concord native and S&D Coffee owner Roy Davis, and his wife, Sue, are donating $100,000 to the ministry. The Mariam and Robert Hayes Charitable Trust donated $50,000 toward renovations and preparation of the house.

CCM also operates the Samaritan House night shelter, Cabarrus County's only homeless shelter. The shelter, which serves more than 300 people each year, has three family rooms that are nearly always full, said Hosack.

Not only is there no room for women and their children, but many mothers are hesitant to bring their children to a shelter, he said.

"The last thing they want to do is take their kids to a shelter," he said.

The home for mothers and their children is not a shelter, explained Hosack. It's a transitional housing facility, a safe and stable environment where mothers can stay with their children for up to a year while they focus on their next step.

Hosack said the ministry will receive more referrals and requests than what they can fulfill in the house. He has a vision for establishing a larger home someday.

CCM is currently interviewing potential residents. Women selected to live in the home must meet certain criteria. They must be actively seeking employment, demonstrate a willingness to participate in the program and agree to follow the house rules.

Women staying at the house will participate in parenting classes and life skills programs, said Pam Smith, CCM's program manager.

"This program is about change," she said.

The first mother to move into the house said she was evicted from her home and lived with family members, but eventually they wanted her out.

Now that she has a place to live, she can focus on her studies. In a year's time, when she leaves the house, she hopes to have her Certified Nursing Assistant license, as well as the ability to rent to own a home.

"I'm going to get it back together," she said. "It takes time, but I'm on my way."