It all started with seeking to help needy families with temporary housing.
That grew to the conversion of the former Spring Green Elementary School into housing for two families. And now, 25 years later, House of Hope manages 18 properties, and in the past year has helped 890 people, including 11 families with children with direct assistance. This does not count the hundreds of people helped through referral of services. To celebrate these achievements, House of Hope will hold a commemorative fundraising dinner this Thursday.
When asked about the progress of the program, Jean Johnson, executive director of House of Hope CDC, smiled and said, “We can end chronic homelessness in our state.”
Johnson, who has been a part of House of Hope’s program from the beginning, has seen firsthand the growth of the corporation over the last 25 years.
Johnson says, “The biggest change is what we are asking for.” Having started out with a shelter, House of Hope is now, “asking the community to support affordable housing.”
House of Hope Community Development Corporation, started in 1989 and the program worked closely with shelters and homeless to find affordable housing. During the mid ’90s, the House of Hope Corporation came to a pivotal moment when, unfortunately, one of their constituents died shortly after her apartment was closed and her two children were left without a mother.
Johnson says that experience “was really a turning point for us here at House of Hope because that was when we decided we needed to build our own housing.”
Now, House of Hope offers the homeless opportunities for stable housing and the beginnings to finding a more permanent solution. House of Hope works with individuals to help them manage their budget, referring them to the appropriate services and be better able to care for themselves.
Johnson says, “Participants are working towards something. They are not going to go back to being homeless. They need to get healthy. Now that they have housing, they can find work. If they need medical attention, this is the time to do it.”
Participants in House of Hope’s program pay 30 percent of their income toward rent each month and the rental subsidy covers what is left.
In 2013,United Way of Rhode Island awarded House of Hope a grant in which the corporation will receive $97,500 a year for the next three years. The money funds the House of Hope’s housing stabilization position. A social worker not only moves people in, but also then meets regularly with participants in housing to help them learn to budget their finances. The social worker does anything from helping participants to get an appointment to advocating for individuals to get the proper services.
House of Hope is focused on helping the homeless reintegrate into a community rather than simply housing them nightly.
Even the shelter operated by House of Hope at Harrington Hall, on Howard Avenue in Cranston, assists homeless men to find pathways to jobs and housing. When House of Hope began operating Harrington Hall in 2009, it was surrounded by human services that had never taken an interest in the men, that is, until House of Hope took it over.
Johnson explains, “We opened the doors wide and said you need to see this. You need to be a part of the solution to ending homelessness because these are the people who have fallen through the cracks of all the systems you have set in place already.”
Now service days are frequently held where tables are set up and service providers, advocacy groups and state departments offer help to the men of Harrington Hall. Johnson believes the affordable housing and services for lower income individuals and families is the best way to end homelessness.
“Ultimately, the goal of the corporation is to put our shelters out of business,” she said.
House of Hope encourages participants to be active in the program. The program has many outlets for constituents to help their communities as well as their fellow participants. House of Hope’s Board of Directors is made up of one-third previously homeless people that are or have been a part of the program.
Johnson says, “So they have a voice all the time. They have a voice at our meetings. They have a voice when they go out to speak to people. They can tell their stories much better than I can.”
Also, House of Hope started running the House of Hope Boutique in Apponaug on Post Road in 2007. The boutique sells creative recycled and re-purposed products, such as purses, totes and jewelry, made by people in the program. The store works as a mechanism to train participants in retail service to gain experience. The House of Hope aims to give individuals the help and tools they need to get back on their feet.
House of Hope, after 25 years of service, only has greater plans for the next year.
“Last year the legislation awarded us $1.5 million to renovate the inside of Harrington Hall,” said Johnson.
The renovations are planned to include a laundry room, teaching kitchen, meeting spaces as well as a new heating and cooling system. Bidding for the project is expected to start soon. House of Hope plans to start an affordable housing project in Pawtuxet Village.
Johnson explained that the House of Hope “will be restoring Gaspee Mansion to its full glory, putting on an addition and, hopefully by next summer, we will have 10 new apartments.”
The Gaspee Mansion was purchased for $187,000. A $1,152,000 historical tax credit award will fund the preservation of the building.
For the past 25 years, Johnson says House of Hope has been “fortunate to work in the city of Warwick because the people here care about each other.”
House of Hope invites the community to attend the 25th anniversary dinner on May 15 at the Harbor Lights Marina and Country Club. The night is to honor important figures in the House of Hope Community Development Corporation and celebrate the good the program has done over the past 25 years for homelessness in not only Warwick, but throughout Rhode Island.
Gene Valicenti, Turn to 10’s news anchor, will be the Master of Ceremonies and a new commemorative book will debut. The book, written by Brian Jones, will exemplify the work done by House of Hope. The book and dinner both emphasize that House of Hope is “Proud of our Past. Focused on our Future.” Along with the book, a video of personal success stories will be shared throughout the night.
At the end of the event, former Governor Phillip Noel will be named the first ever “Ambassador of Hope” for the program. Noel was one of the first to serve on House of Hope’s Advisory Board. The board was established a year and a half ago in an effort to educate individuals of the cause and expand the reach of House of Hope’s program. The board is made up of individuals like Noel, who can be influential on a statewide basis.
Tickets at $100 can be acquired at www.thehouseofhopecdc.org or by calling 463-3324 x231. Donations to the House of Hope Corporation can also be made through the website or by telephone.