Editors Note: With this story, we continue our annual Featured Non-profit series, in which each week through the holiday season, we highlight the work of a local non-profit, including ways to help in this season of giving. We encourage support for these worthy charities.
The day after Thanksgiving, the women gathered around the table at the Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission are laughing about how much turkey they’d eaten. Volunteer groups and benefactors have been dropping a lot of turkey off, and there’s been more than enough for everyone a couple of times over.
It’s a far cry from what Thanksgiving could have been for many. For some, it might have been spent in the chill of a car or in the overcrowded apartment of a friend. Others might have spent the holiday on a bench in a city park.
Since 2005, about 700 women without housing have stayed at the Monroe Gospel Women’s Shelter on Lewis Street, and the house is consistently full to its limits.
The mission was founded by Dorothy Stima, mother of Monroe pastor and former city councilman John Stima, after she had worked at the Everett Mission for a while.
“Day after day, I’d have to tell people, ‘Sorry we are full, sorry we are full,’ and I thought, ‘we really need more beds,’” she said.
There weren’t shelters of any kind for the homeless in the Sky Valley when Stima planned the Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission. At first, neighbors were opposed to the plan, fearing unsavory elements coming to the area, and perhaps even ongoing police problems.
But from the street, there’s no way to tell that the tidy two-story home isn’t just another family house. And in the seven years the mission has been in Monroe, there have been very few problems.
Rather, there have been many problems solved.
Women who come to the mission are generally escaping a bad situation. Sometimes it’s domestic violence. Sometimes loss of a job or a divorce has left a woman unable to afford housing. Some women are recently clean and sober and trying to rebuild lives. Some simply lack the ability to hold a regular job, and can’t survive on the $197 per month the state allots those who can’t work.
Women who don’t have adequate shelter are at considerable risk, said Stima.
“Quite a few of our ladies have been assaulted or raped,” she said. “You know, they are out there, vulnerable. We have one lady who was sleeping in the hallways of apartments. Talk about being vulnerable.”
Once a woman is homeless, it becomes increasingly difficult to regain a normal life. It is hard to get and keep a job. It’s hard to hold onto the adequate credit and rental history required for apartment applications.
For one woman and her daughter currently staying at the mission, a two-year period of homelessness began when they were evicted from an Everett apartment and couldn’t come up with the money to get another.
When they could, they stayed with friends, said the soft-spoken Shirley, the older of the two. Sometimes they slept outside wherever they could.
The mission is the first step to getting a more stable life, she said.
“Right now, we’re just looking for housing and we’ll go from there,” she said.
On average, women stay at the mission for about 90 days while they put together jobs, housing and whatever crisis management they need to begin afresh.
There are many success stories.
“One gal, who was one of our first people – her name was Darlene – when she came here she was just getting clean and sober,” said Stima. “She went to work for Canyon Creek. She was there a long time, then went to work at Fred Meyer. We met her the other day. She said ‘I have the best job ever. I am working for Boeing.’ She definitely feels she has arrived.”
At any given time there are 18 women staying at the shelter, which has a 97 percent occupancy rate. Due to careful budgeting, the Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission manages to feed and house 18 women and some staff for about $90,000 per year.
Some of that money comes from grants, some from an annual charity auction. A lot of support comes in the form of goods such as clothes or food. And a fair amount comes from private donation; one man gives $10 a month, and has for years.
“When I spend, I think of his $10,” said Stima. “We try to be very careful with our spending.”
And quite a bit of the work of operating the place is done by some of the more long-term, trusted residents.
Marsha has been at the mission for about two years, and recently was promoted to a supervisory position, handing out meds and doing roll call.
For her, the mission has become a family.
“I had been homeless, had been out of work six or seven years,” she said. “I was sleeping in my car, not as sad a story as some, but bad enough. I called the mission and there was a space, and I was welcomed with loving arms.”
To donate to the Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission, send gifts to 450 S. Lewis St., Monroe, WA 98272, or call (360) 863-9003.