On any given night in Seattle and surrounding areas, it is estimated that more than 600 women are without shelter. Some of these homeless mothers have their children beside them.
Inspired by the work of Mother Emilie Gamelin, Sisters of Providence hear the cry of the poor in homeless women and their children in communities where they serve in ministry. Years ago the sisters formed a nonprofit corporation that sponsored a community project to help meet their needs. That corporation, Providence Pariseau Ministries, was named for Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, whose birth name was Esther Pariseau. The ministries included Providence Hospitality, a ministry to provide emergency shelter for women and children in Seattle, which closed indefinitely in September 2011. Another ministry, Sojourner Place, found a new life when the sisters gifted the residence and transitional living program for women in Seattle to Jubilee Women’s Center on October 25, 2014. The third community project sponsored by Providence Pariseau Corporation is Building Bridges, in Portland, Oregon. It is a network of pediatric long-term care facilities providing care for children who are medically fragile and require 24-hour skilled nursing. Regular educational conferences offer a vehicle for sharing best practices as well as for developing support and advocacy for the children and their families.
About the Jubilee Women’s Center: Founded in 1983, Jubilee Women’s Center operates two residences in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Last year Jubilee housed and supported a total of 53 women, and served nearly 1,300 others with referral services, educational programs, a computer lab and a free clothing boutique.
The story behind the collaboration began in 2013 when the Sisters of Providence and the Providence Pariseau board of directors began their search for a partner who could continue the Sojourner Place ministry. They approached Jubilee Women’s Center and the parties spent several months considering the relationship, including a trial period in which the Jubilee executive director served as interim executive director at Sojourner Place.
It was evident the organizations were well aligned in mission, values and programs, with a focus on providing caring, holistic support to help low-income women transition to independent living. Collaborating with Jubilee Women’s Center would enable the long-term sustainability of Sojourner Place, as well as deepen and expand services to the growing number of women experiencing poverty and homelessness in the Seattle area. They drafted an agreement that would preserve Sojourner’s housing and support services and allow the sisters to transition their ministry to an organization positioned for growth.
“The Sisters of Providence are excited to find an excellent partner in Jubilee Women’s Center,” said Provincial Superior Judith Desmarais, SP. “We feel strongly that the Jubilee Women’s Center’s board of directors and its executive director Cheryl Sesnon will provide the thoughtful leadership to make this collaboration a success — ensuring that this beloved ministry of the Sisters of Providence will continue to benefit homeless women in the Seattle area for years to come.”
“We are honored by the trust and confidence the Sisters of Providence have shown in placing this precious ministry in our hands,” said Cheryl Sesnon, Jubilee’s executive director. “This collaboration preserves a critical housing option in Seattle, and reduces operating costs so we can direct more resources to helping low-income women rebuild their lives.”
Though insiders and supporters had been informed of the pending alliance, the first formal public announcement welcoming Sojourner Place to the Jubilee Women’s Center community was made at Jubilee’s 17th Annual Benefit Breakfast on October 2. Several Sisters of Providence were in attendance and were recognized at the event, which drew nearly 500 donors and friends of Jubilee Women’s Center who responded warmly to the news.
Sisters of Providence also are one of four congregations of women religious that sponsor the Transitions intercommunity ministry in Spokane. Transitions is working to end poverty and homelessness for women and children. Its programs include EduCare, Miryam’s House, Transitional Living Center (TLC), Women’s Hearth, and the New Leaf Bakery Café.
In August 2017, Transitions broke ground on 24 cottages for the homeless in Spokane that is called The Home Yard Cottages. “At the end of the day, we all get to go home. Home. It’s a place of relief, recovery, recalibration and respite, safety and comfort and it is deserved by all.
But in Spokane, each day 1,300 people have no place to call home. Transitions is working to change that.” Edie Rice-Sauer, Transitions executive director, was speaking August 8 at the groundbreaking for The Home Yard Cottages, which will provide 24 homes for formerly homeless individuals and families living below the poverty line and coping with physical and mental disabilities.
Transitions is an intercommunity ministry whose sponsors are four communities of women religious, including the Sisters of Providence. Its focus is on ending poverty and homelessness for women and children. Access to affordable housing is key. “The project is unique,” Edie explained. “It’s an infill project, reducing sprawl. Fifteen of the units are energy efficient, net zero units meaning they produce as much energy as they use.
“We’ve used the city’s cottage housing ordinance, which allows for greater density. They’re not tiny homes, but are not bigger than 1,000 square feet.
“Many of the decisions we have made about the design were impacted directly from our participants. They informed us what works and what doesn’t and we listened!
“And lastly, we hope to address the severe shortage of trained workers in the construction field by partnering with YouthBuild, a program of ESD 101 that provides job training in the construction trades to low-income youth who also are working on their GED.”
The VIPs who attended the groundbreaking were a testament to the complexity of the project and its significance. Spokane City Councilwoman Karen Stratton and State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, were among those who wielded the shovels. Sisters representing the sponsoring communities also took a turn at symbolically breaking ground on the site at 3128 North Hemlock in the northwest Audubon Downriver neighborhood.
Refreshments for the gathering were provided by New Leaf Bakery Café, a Transitions job training program that offers women education, hands-on work experience and supportive services.
The $6.2 million Home Yards Cottages project is expected to be completed by late summer or early fall of 2018. Participants from a focus group suggested unique services that will be incorporated, including continuation of the existing community garden, a service animal run and two playgrounds.
The groundbreaking ceremony ended with an impassioned plea for compassion for all by David Browneagle, a member of the Spokane Tribe who gave a blessing. His prayer included the words: “Allow us to stand tall amongst the people, and if we see somebody down, extend our hand and help them up.” More information may be found at the Transitions website.
Building Bridges, in Portland, Oregon, is the third community project sponsored by Providence Pariseau Corp. It is a network of pediatric long-term care facilities providing care for children who are medically fragile and require 24-hour skilled nursing. Regular educational conferences offer a vehicle for sharing best practices as well as for developing support and advocacy for the children and their families.
Sojourner Place update
Reflections on the first year as part of Jubilee Women’s Center by Anita Cech, JWC marketing manager
Last October, Sisters of Providence entrusted their cherished Sojourner Place ministry to a new partner: Jubilee Women’s Center. It was a transition that marked the end of an era for the sisters and the beginning of a new era for Sojourner Place. One year later, we see just how accurate it is to say, “When one door closes, another opens…” As part of Jubilee Women’s Center, Sojourner Place has continued in the spirit of the Sisters of Providence, supporting single women and pregnant women who are committed to working on the causes of their homelessness. The new partnership is also adding value in many ways by broadening support services and resources for the women of Sojourner Place.Sister Jessica Taylor has been a counselor and care manager at Sojourner Place since the organizations came together a year ago, shepherding the residents through resistance and concern to acceptance and appreciation for their new opportunities.
With expanded job and life- skills classes, an extra resident room, building upgrades and a more flexible program, Sojourner Place residents are recognizing the benefits of the new partnership. As Sister Jessica sees it, one of the biggest changes in aligning the two programs is that the women at Sojourner Place are now enjoying a more personalized approach to care management. “We are doing a much better job of meeting each woman’s needs,” she said.
“I can say, ‘Let’s look at your situation and see how we can work with this.’ It’s much more flexible.”
This dovetails well with an overall shift toward more freedom at Sojourner Place — the environment in general is no longer as strictly controlled. For example, residents are not required to attend Tuesday and Thursday meetings if they have work or another approved commitment. The curfew is gone, as well. “Giving the women more freedom has made a profound difference,” explained Sister Jessica. “I tell them, ‘It’s not about strict monitoring or how you come and go. It’s about how you arrange your life to be successful.’ ”
The melding of Sojourner Place with Jubilee offers other benefits to the women, as well. Residents have a new option if they are nearing the end of the transitional program at Sojourner Place but not quite ready to live independently.
Jubilee’s main site in Capitol Hill allows residents a longer length of stay so they can take the extra time they need to become financially stable and prepared for self-sufficiency.
This was the perfect option for one resident who moved recently from Sojourner Place to the main site. She was able to find a job shortly thereafter, and is now getting closer to living on her own. The move for her provided just the extra incentive she needed, and for her “family” at Sojourner, it became a positive sign that the Capitol Hill Jubilee community was their community, too.
While the advantages of partnership for the women of Sojourner Place are evident, the benefit to staff must not be overlooked. “Staff at Sojourner Place used to be more isolated in their work,” said Sister Jessica. “Jubilee brought in a spectrum of support for staff. We now have access to a much bigger knowledge base through our colleagues, which helps us more effectively meet the needs of each woman we serve.”
As a member of both the Sisters of Providence and Jubilee Women’s Center communities, Sister Jessica has a unique perspective on the past year as the two organizations came together. Though there were the inevitable bumps along the way, including some major home-maintenance issues, the new relationship has been a healthy one.
“What we do and who we serve hasn’t changed, and the circumstances that bring them here haven’t changed,” said Sister Jessica. “But now we are doing a better job of working with each woman in a more personalized way, getting her connected with the education and resources she needs to build a stable and fulfilling future.”