Helping homeless to new lives

Heather Hall left her husband in 2007.

"It was not a good marriage," said the mom of three little girls, then ages 4, 7 and 8. A stay-at-home mom, she had few options and no job experience. But she knew she had to get out.

The Cooperative Christian Ministry's Teaching Houses program was crucial in helping her back on her feet.

"I was incredibly scared," she said. "I had never been on my own before."

The ministry works with homeless people in three main capacities - temporary shelters, short-term transitional housing and a program it calls "teaching houses." It also operates soup kitchens, food pantries and other services.

A teaching house gives a working family a chance to establish the discipline and financial stability needed to maintain an independent residence. The program takes six months to two years.

The program accepts mostly single-parent families with small children, said Ed Hosack, CCM's executive director.

In April, CCM had nine teaching houses. Today, 11 are operating - eight in Kannapolis and three in Concord - and Habitat for Humanity Cabarrus County is renovating two more.

Teaching homes work toward several goals: helping families recover from economic disaster; bringing the community together through partnerships like the one CCM has with the city of Kannapolis; and enhancing neighborhoods by filling empty homes with residents.

Each family's full-time case manager works with them on budgeting and teaches strategic thinking and good decision-making.

Participants have to pay for their housing. Rent is based on their income and on the financial plan they've developed with the case manager.

One of Hall's first hurdles was finding work. She got a job but soon lost it.

"I lost my child care because I lost my job," she said.After that, Hall grew more anxious that she'd lose the stability she'd begun to establish. CCM officials told her to relax.

"I didn't have to worry about the stress of losing everything," Hall said.

Besides the training and resources Hall got from CCM, she said, Marshall Smith, the nonprofit's housing director, and Elizabeth Lindsay at the West Cabarrus YMCA helped her get a job at the Y.

Smith asked Lindsay whether any help was available at the Y, even if it were just child care.

"They gave me a scholarship to put my kids up (at the Y) after school," Hall said. She was working as a waitress at East Coast Wings, and through the restaurant she set up a fundraiser for the YMCA. Because of her hard work and her ability to learn quickly, the Y hired her.

For about six months now, Hall has worked as housekeeping manager at the Y, with full benefits, a retirement plan and discounts on various lessons for her daughters.

Hall and her daughters stayed two years at a teaching house in Kannapolis.

"(CCM) didn't even tell me my time was up," she said. "... They had faith in me that I can do it. ... Now I know I can take care of me and my girls."