House of Hope: Stories of success
September 5, 2012
By Michele Mihalovich
For Michelle Hirsch, the House of Hope was about her last hope in trying to put her life back together.
The 45-year-old mother of two started drinking out of control when she and her husband divorced in 2000. She watched things spiral downward and eventually lost custody of her children.
By 2009, she did get sober, but had no job, and she was living with another recovering alcoholic in Tenino in a place without running water or heat.
She went to North Bend for the holidays to visit her children, but when she returned to Tenino, her friend had been evicted, which left her without a car and homeless.
“A friend told me to call House of Hope,” Hirsch said. “It’s been a long road and a slow process. But I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had House of Hope to help me along.”
House of Hope, nestled in a quiet, wooded and secluded 15-acre area in rural North Bend, is a three-home shelter for women and their children. Some of the women are homeless. Some are escaping domestic violence.
Some are homeless after fleeing a domestic violence situation.
Marcia Bennett-Reinert, shelter director, said House of Hope is much more than a shelter.
“For one, so much more is required of these women than at a normal shelter,” she said. “They get a lot of tools to move onto self sufficiency.”
Moms have to see a mental health counselor twice a week. And depending on each woman’s situation, some meet with a professional to discuss domestic abuse, attend family development and parenting workshops, get their GEDs or take college courses online, fill out housing and job applications, and attend a financial fitness boot camp. Everybody is expected to do chores at their shelter house.
“They are learning things here that they can use for the rest of their lives,” Bennett-Reinert said.
And because House of Hope doesn’t accept government funding, it is not constricted by time limits.
The biggest problem of the government system is that it’s based on quantity, rather than quality, Bennett-Reinert said.
Most people are allowed to stay 20, 30 or 60 days in a government-funded shelter, and then they have to leave, and they are just bouncing from one shelter to another, she said.
At House of Hope, the women accepted are asked to stay at least six months to work the program and try and get into transitional housing.
But because waiting lists for transitional housing can take anywhere from six months to two years, the women and their families can stay up to 18 months, so long as they are working the program and making forward progress, she said.
Hirsch said having structure and stability at a difficult time in her life was instrumental to getting back on her feet.
Today, Hirsch works at the Snoqualmie Casino, owns and drives a car, lives in a one-bedroom rental in Snoqualmie and remains sober.
Her goal is to get custody of her children and find a three-bedroom home so she and the kids can live together again.
“My kids love me today and can trust me today,” Hirsch said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that.”
Bennett-Reinert said Hirsch is just one of many successes who have come through House of Hope doors.
She said less than 7 percent of the successful “exits” from the facility return to homelessness.
Some go on with their lives and really don’t check back with House of Hope to share their progress reports.
But Bennett-Reinert couldn’t hang up the phone without telling one story that really touched her.
One woman came to the shelter after leaving her abusive boyfriend.
“Four days later, she delivered a child,” Bennett-Reinert said. “She was very fearful, not trusting and had a big chip on her shoulder.”
And for good reason. Her mother started abusing her with curling irons and boiling water when she was just a child, and it kept escalating the older she got.
Today, the mother is in prison for attempting to murder the woman who one day walked through the doors at House of Hope, Bennett-Reinert said.
That untrusting young woman with a chip on her shoulder decided it was time to break the cycle of domestic abuse in her family, she said.
“She was with us for about a year, and in that time, she took online classes at Bellevue College in medical billing. After moving to transitional housing, she served as an intern at Swedish Medical (Center). That led to part-time work and then a full-time job there,” Bennett-Reinert said.
“So many of the women who come here want to break that cycle. And it’s wonderful when you can actually watch it happen,” she said.
People make a lot of assumptions about the homeless, and Bennett-Reinert said a lot of those assumptions are incorrect.
“It’s often not in any way the fault of the victim. Sometimes it is because of drugs, alcohol or because they choose that lifestyle,” she said. “But actually, a majority of people in the U.S. today is less than a month away from being homeless. If you get sick and can’t work, you can lose your home.
“When people assume they know why people are homeless, and choose not to do anything to help, they are robbing themselves of a blessing.”
How to help
Since House of Hope doesn’t accept government funding that would tie organizers’ hands regarding how they help, it relies on private donations, volunteers and local fundraisers. And there are plenty of ways to help.
The shelter can always use gift cards, especially for gas or groceries.
It can also use the following goods and services: toiletries, home medical supplies, nonperishable food, cleaning supplies, arts and crafts supplies, and vehicle maintenance.
They have a volunteer piano teacher, but one of the houses doesn’t have a piano. House of Hope also needs volunteer drivers (mostly local trips) and childcare.
Contact Marcia Bennett-Reinert at 206-915-2073 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monetary donations can be made online at www.mammashands.org; click on the ‘Contribute’ link in the left column.
Michele Mihalovich: 392-6434, ext. 246, or email@example.com. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.