WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Valeda House's program supervisor Liz John-West smiles with approval beside client Charmayne Watchmaker and her daughter Serenity.
Valeda House, a new program of Catholic Social Services, is a lifeline for homeless women and their children.
Take Angie Vandermaas for example.
"I came into the program very broken spiritually, physically, mentally," said Vandermaas, keynote speaker at the Sign of Hope campaign kickoff, held Oct. 18 at St. Andrew's Centre.
"I do not have children of my own but I struggled with a drug addiction and a very abusive husband who isolated me for years. I had no idea about programs and facilities like Valeda House or Catholic Social Services," she said.
The program provides transitional group care to homeless women and their children. Women can stay up to six months, with an average stay about three or four months.
The goal for the Sign of Hope campaign increases consistently each year. This year's goal is $2.55 million, which will support new and existing programs, including Valeda House, which is Latin for "strong and healthy women."
"Our eye is on homelessness, and we recognize that when someone is homeless there are a lot of complexities around that, from trauma to addiction to abusive relationships," explained Liz John-West, program supervisor.
"Your living situation is usually chaotic, and you're either homeless or sleeping on people's sofas or in a woman's emergency shelter or going from hotel room to hotel room. Here at Valeda House, they can stabilize."
Campaign head wanted to help the homeless
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON – As Gerry Hood neared retirement, he wanted to do more to express his concern for society's down-and-out members.
He wanted to find ways to make a contribution towards ending homelessness.
When he learned about the Sign of Hope campaign, he had found his calling.
"I was hooked," he said.
"It took me awhile to realize that this organization is all about homelessness prevention.
"I also realized that you can do some things by yourself, but with the right organization you do a lot more - and this is the right organization."
Hood is this year's chairman of the Sign of Hope campaign, the fundraising arm of Catholic Social Services.
While CSS has an annual budget of $68 million, the Sign of Hope dollars are crucial because they provide seed money for new programs, Hood told the launch of the campaign Oct. 18. This year's campaign goal is $2.55 million.
"For 28 years the Sign of Hope has remained true to its roots, keeping admin costs low," he said.
"Ninety-one cents of every dollar you donate goes directly to client services and maintaining the focus of philanthropy as well, encouraging people to give to people."
Valeda House stabilized Vandermaas and helped point her in the right direction to rebuild her life.
She went to Valeda House in June and stayed for four months. Immediately she was drawn to the ambience of the small, close-knit, six-bedroom house. It had a homey atmosphere, with a helpful staff. Having the children around the home was also a joy.
She took rehabilitation programs that renewed her strength and resilience, and provided her with the courage to escape domestic violence.
Now she lives in another CSS residence, an apartment building in central Edmonton.
Run by Catholic Social Services, the JAC program provides transitional housing for its clients. A drug and alcohol free site, JAC has live-in staff who provide supervision. She has the advantage of affordable rent and is learning new skills that will help her integrate into mainstream community. She has turned her life around for the better.
"I have been clean for four months. I do outreach work for young women involved in prostitution, drug addiction and domestic abuse," she said.
She concluded, "I am so very blessed and grateful for this service because if it wasn't for Valeda House, I don't think I'd be around today."
The organization has also been the right one for Charmayne Watchmaker. She was homeless for a few months.
An emergency bed at a women's shelter was available for her, but not her two children. They were apprehended, and live with their grandparents. She was eight months pregnant with her third child when she went to Valeda House.
"There are a lot of pregnant women at the shelter who don't get to take their babies from the hospital because they are without a home. Thanks to Valeda House, I had a safe place to bring my child home," said Watchmaker, who now has a beautiful daughter, Serenity, three months old.
Before moving to Valeda House, her situation was "very scary," she said. At the shelter, there was a curfew and, if she did not return by 9 p.m., she risked losing her bed.
Within 24 hours of moving in to Valeda House, Watchmaker made the bedroom her own. She decorated the walls with photos of her children, and laid out her belongings. At Valeda House, she could leave for medical treatment or important appointments and, when she returned, her room and possessions were intact, secure as ever.
"All of the women have their own problems, but coming here we have the same focus: staying clean and wanting a safe place to come home to," said Watchmaker.
At Valeda House she could have visitations from her children. There is a playroom and a backyard like a typical family home.
John-West said when women are homeless and their children have been apprehended, there is no way to visit them.
"Where would you have those visits? Usually it would be at a child welfare office, whereas as soon as a mom moves in here and the government knows she's living in a home, the visits can immediately happen."
Watchmaker has since moved to JAC, and lives in a two-bedroom apartment. It's another positive step for her - moving from communal living to semi-independent living.
"We know it's beneficial for a mother and child to have their own apartment. We know that's healthy for them," said John-West.