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July 31, 2013

Marian House Helps Women Move from Dependence to Independence

by Tala Hadavi

Baltimore, Maryland, has one of United States’ highest numbers of homeless people and substance abusers.  And about one-third of the city's more than 4,000 homeless are women with substance abuse problems. One of the many organizations that try to help those women is a place called Marian House - which has offered rehabilitation, counseling and housing assistance for more than 30 years. For many the home has become their last chance at a new life.    

For many women in Baltimore, Marian House has been a life saver.

"Heroin cocaine, pills, whatever that would take me out of my own head, I had hit rock-bottom," said Marian House resident Robin. "Marian House is a beautiful place to be."

Robin is just one of the more than 1,000 women Marian House has helped to rebuild their lives in its three decades of existence.

Founded originally as a transition program for women coming out of prison, it now provides a helping hand for other women in desperate circumstances. Executive Director Katie Alston calls it a "refuge."

"A home for women who are in need in the things that they’ve suffered through: rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, mental illness, addiction," she said. "All of those things. A term that we’ve been using lately is a therapeutic recovery community."

Casaundra says she got to Marian House after a long struggle with drugs and alcohol.

"Ultimately I ended up in bad relationships, domestic violence, my last relationship was older than me ended up with 29 stitches to the face," she said. "From the eyebrow down around to the neck."

And Casaundra says getting into the program was not easy.

"It’s hard to get in here. You have to be interviewed to get in here," she said. "You have to meet with people that want to know that you are willing and ready to do something different. And its like I have nothing left, I have absolutely nothing. I need this place."

Now that she's here, Casaundra proudly shows off her room.

"Yes, and this is my room. You start off when you first come in in a smaller room," she said. "And as the rooms become available…because by the time we get to the bigger rooms, you have been here about six months and you transitioning out. And the people that are in the smaller rooms, move into the bigger rooms."

Alston describes life at Marian House as like living in a dorm - but it's a dorm with some very strict rules.

"We have curfews, we have restrictions on visitors…we have an expectation, the first week they are on blackout - they can’t leave the building," she said. "After the first week they have earlier curfews than they will later on."
 
"The expectation is to participate in all the mandatory pieces of the program," Alston added. "If they don’t show up for a counseling sessions, they get a written infraction from their counselor."

Alston is proud of the women who complete the Marian House program -- something she says takes a great deal of courage.

"It's like jumping off a cliff. You leave everything behind. You don’t know where you’re gonna land," she said. "It's often giving up the entire life that you have known. So independence is our tagline…it's women moving from dependence to independence."

“Younger you know, I’ve dreamt of the husband and the white picket fence and the little dog," said resident Casaundra. "But now, I don’t even want any of that right now. Its like, if it’ll come, it’ll come. But its like I just have this burst of energy.”

“These tears are of joy. I’m very proud of myself," said another resident Tagerin. "I mean, I’ve accomplished so much in 13 months… and through all of the accomplishments; the peace is what holds me the most. The peace.”

Still, she says, there are thousands more women - in the U.S. and around the world - who need such a refuge but can't find it.

"Some because they might not know a place like this exists also because they might not be ready," said executive director Alston.  "But we hope that some day they will be and hopefully, some day, especially the ones who are nearby us, find their way to us."