- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

For Kim Long Gordon, “life is better on this side.” The 49-year-old homeless woman is a former addict, felon and mother of five who “had my [parental] rights taken” during six years of incarceration in a South Carolina prison. She wasn’t quite sure of the exact ages of her children when we spoke this week.

Today, with the comprehensive and supportive help of New Endeavors by Women (NEW), Ms. Gordon is proud of how much she has turned away from a life “I was tired of living.”

“I wanted to stop getting high, and I didn’t care how,” Ms. Gordon said of her journey from aimless wandering through detoxification, recovery and “aftercare” programs, and her eventual acceptance into the transitional housing program at NEW in the District.

For 18 years, NEW has assisted 1,500 women in their efforts to move into permanent independent living through services such as employment counseling, strategies for obtaining and maintaining affordable housing, budgeting and saving, and literacy and remedial education. Each woman’s participation is coordinated with her case manager, who may refer her to appropriate community resources, such as legal counseling and mental health assistance.

The nonprofit agency, www.newendeavorsbywomen.org, is one of 178 that receive donations from the Fannie Mae Foundation’s annual Help the Homeless Walkathon that will start at 9 a.m. tomorrow on the Mall.

“The residents receive a lot of support, but it really is their own determination to turn their lives around that drives them,” said NEW board member Eugenie D. Thompson, whose sister, Anne Raffaelli, is a founder.

NEW was created in 1988 by the Women’s Shelter Providers “to stop the cycle of women going from shelter to shelter,” Ms. Thompson said. Unlike at most shelters, the 32 women served by NEW on any given day do not have to leave the Northwest facility each morning. They have a “permanent” place to store their belongings and call “home” while they try to rebuild their lives. During its 18th annual fundraiser last night at the Westin Grand hotel, which underwrote a portion of the evening’s expenses, NEW graduates Portia Phillips and Carla Lindsay spoke.

Ms. Phillips moved out of NEW into her own apartment in March. She volunteers by helping women who are facing challenges similar to hers and by telling her story to younger women to encourage them to focus on education. Ms. Lindsay, who moved out of NEW in 1996, works for Anchor Mental Health as a community support specialist and addictions counselor and is on NEW’s support staff. She and her husband are homeowners raising three children.

Wanda Steptoe, executive director of NEW, said funding comes primarily from a city-sponsored coalition, the Community Partnership. The remaining 35 percent comes from other sources such as the Help the Homeless Walkathon, grants, foundations and private donors.

Ms. Gordon’s voice trembled and she started to cry when she talked about her appreciation of NEW donors, who have given her “the structure” and a sense of self-worth during her recovery process.

“I’ve got responsibilities, and I feel good about myself,” she said.

During the past year at NEW, Ms. Gordon was able to get a housekeeping job earning $9.79 an hour at the Washington Convention Center, save a little money, attend her son’s graduation from college and take a trip to New Orleans (compliments of an anonymous donor) that allowed her to reunite with her 102-year-old paternal grandfather, Huey Long, a singer with the Ink Spots. Her parents, who were heroin addicts, are deceased.

“Now, I want to be a good mother and grandmother,” said Ms. Gordon, who plans to obtain a high school diplomaand get her own apartment. “When your name isn’t on a lease, you’re considered homeless,” she said.

“Structure” is a word you hear repeated often by the women at NEW.

Betty Grover, 45, was awaiting trial on a drug distribution charge when her attorney helped to place her in NEW.

“It gave me an opportunity to get structure and be away from the area I came from,” she said. “Otherwise, I’d be out in the night once again.” Today, Ms. Grover is a graduate of a 12-week culinary program and works at the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington. She enjoys cooking soul food and is known for her homemade macaroni and cheese and her scratch cornbread.

Ms. Steptoe said the women crave structure because “their lives were spinning out of control.” They need “the structure of a routine and of embracing responsibilities [such as sharing chores] and being accountable.” These are the basic steps toward self-sufficiency.

According to Fannie Mae statistics, more than 12,000 people in the Washington area are homeless. That total includes people who are living on the streets, staying in shelters or living in transitional housing. More than 40 percent are in families, and about one-third are children. Nearly one-third of the region’s homeless adults are employed.

The Fannie Mae Foundation is looking for volunteers for the annual Help the Homeless Walkathon, www.helpthehomelessdc.org, and related activities, which have raised more than $54 million in 18 years years. Volunteers are needed this evening and for tomorrow morning’s walk.

“I’m very, very grateful to people who [donate] because I don’t know what I’d do without NEW. I need all the help I can get,” Ms. Gordon said. She added that there were no programs like NEW when she got out of prison and “you were on your own.”

Not anymore, Ms. Gordon said, “I know I don’t have to go back to what I was.”

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