The Transformative Power of Relationships
As she clicked together those sparkly red shoes, Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.” No one can attest to that better than the women who live at Abby’s House. The women who arrive at our door have often experienced a disruptive episode that has resulted in displacement from their housing – domestic violence or other unsafe living conditions, loss of a job or reduction in work hours, divorce, foreclosure (theirs or their landlord’s), mental health and/or substance abuse issues, or because they simply have nowhere to go.
Every woman that walks through the door at Abby’s House needs
a place to call home and wants to make a fresh start.
On average, we receive 15-20 calls a day from women who need our help. In the past three years, the average length of stay at our shelter has increased from 11 to 27 to 33 nights. The waiting list for our 78 units of housing is now 3-6 months long; at other housing agencies, it’s even longer. The Worcester Housing Authority needs an additional 12,000 units of housing in order to house everyone on their waiting list. The WHA waiting list is eight years long. At present, there are not enough units of affordable housing to meet the increasing need.
Homelessness isn’t just about not having a roof over one’s head – it impacts an individual’s social, emotional, medical, developmental, educational and occupational status, as well. Homeless women and children demonstrate higher rates of mental health issues and problem behaviors, have poorer developmental and health outcomes, and over the long run, suffer from a lack of educational, vocational and economic success, which places these women and their children at continued risk for homelessness.
At Abby’s House, we strive to end the cycle by providing women with a place to live, and by assigning each woman an Advocate who helps her craft an Individualized Service Plan designed to help her regain her footing on the path to independence. The Plan is unique for each woman, because each woman is at a different point in her journey. From there opportunities begin to unfold, which include anything from discovering interests or talents they never knew they had, finding a volunteer or paid position, or reconnecting with their friends and/or family. Confidence slowly begins to return to these women, who have lost it somewhere along the way.
Our goal is to empower each resident to take control of her own life and take the next step, whatever that may be. We recognize that each woman has the strength within to make the right choices for herself. We are here to advise, advocate, inform, encourage and support them; in short, to accompany them on their journey.
The most transformational and unique aspect of the way Abby’s House operates lies in this idea of accompaniment. Each woman who stays at Abby’s House feels a sense of support and community, with staff and the other women. We share community space, eat lunch together, and leave our office doors open. Residents know that we are here for them, no matter what. “Michelle”, one of our residents, said, “In other living situations, I would get harassed. Here, I have support to reach my goals. The connection with other women is empowering.”
Empowering each woman to reach her own potential requires time, patience, acceptance and love. Adopting this approach has allowed us to help transform the lives of more than 11,500 women and children. For the women who stay with us, Abby’s House is an oasis in a desert, a place where they can reclaim and rebuild their lives, at their own pace and on their own terms, in relationship with other women. Ultimately, it’s the combination of having a safe space in which to live and being in community with other women that allows them to transform their lives. The strength of these connections remains, even after the women move on. As many of them will tell you, “Once an Abby’s girl, always an Abby’s girl.”