Village helps to change the ‘homeless state of mind’

“We’re not a shelter in the traditional understanding of the word,” begins Jim Fineran, Executive Director of the Village of Hope. Even so, he has all the admiration in the world for the shelter organizations in our area such as Diakoni, Halo, Christian Shelter, and the Joseph House.

“These other organizations provide emergency shelter for homeless and other disadvantaged people,” he continues, “while we’re a two year transitional living program for women struggling with homelessness.”

The goal for the 15 women and children who are living at the Village is for them to develop the skills and attitudes that will keep them from ever becoming homeless again. In the 25 years since Sister Mary Elizabeth Gintling of the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary founded the Village, hundreds of women have achieved this goal.

Janice Adams, (not her real name and the details have been heavily disguised to protect her privacy) is an example of the kinds of successes that the Village creates. Adams is in her early 30s, she has a pre-school child, and she’s about to finish her two-year program.

When she first came to the Village, her financial situation was grim. She was $5,000 in debt, with few prospects of ever paying it. This meant bad credit, which in turn meant no one would rent her an apartment. She had been living in a homeless camp in the woods.

Today, she’s an entirely different woman. She has self-confidence, a job that she loves, and the enormous satisfaction of feeling that her life is under control.

How did this change come about?

Fineran has a theory of what happened. “There are two facets to homelessness,” he begins. “One is physical homelessness. And two is a homeless state of mind. When we admit a woman to our program, the day she moves in she is no longer physically homeless.

“However, she still has a homeless state of mind. Our mission is to change that homeless state of mind.”

In Fineran’s view, the homeless state of mind involves a constant, overwhelming sense of urgency, a desperate need to focus on day-to-day survival. This makes it close to impossible to do things that could make the future better, such as training for a good job.

In Janice Adams’ case, escaping the homeless state of mind included having psychological counseling. As Fineran explains, “We partner with Eastern Shore Psychological Services to offer group sessions and individual sessions for each participant.”

Adams and her fellow participants also benefitted from twice a month sessions with Salisbury Neighborhood Housing. They taught her how to balance a checkbook, and something extremely important, how to budget. The ability to budget helped her transition from a constant state of emergency to someone who now plans for the future.

If Adams was truly to escape homelessness, there remained an overwhelming obstacle; she needed to improve her credit score. Fortunately, one of the Village’s board members, T. J. Maloney is a lawyer, and with his help, Adams learned how to use the legal system to compel the father of her child to pay for the child’s food and clothing.

Adams also experienced “dress for success,” and makeup lesson, plus advice on resume preparation and job-hunting. Salisbury Quality Staffing Services donates their services to help Village residents with these skills.

If you’d like to help in wonderful, transformative, successful efforts like this, Fineran hopes you’ll contact him. He also hopes that you’ll come to the Great Clue Caper on April 10. You can call him at 410-860-5981, or even better, email him at jfineran@villageofhope.us.

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