If you lived at Jubilee Women’s Center, you’d feel right at home. The newly purchased residence at 18th Avenue on Capitol Hill looks like a house — a gorgeously preserved Craftsman-style home, in fact. It’s across the street from a school. The neighborhood feels safe, friendly — maybe even a little bucolic.
But there’s a difference: This is temporary housing. If it weren’t for Jubilee, the seven women who now live here would probably be homeless.
Jubilee Women’s Center is one of Seattle’s oldest transitional housing facilities for homeless women and women at risk of becoming homeless. It was founded in 1983 by three members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and became an independent nonprofit in 1991. It’s one of the few organizations in the Seattle area that serves single women without children.
And thanks to a successful $5 million capital campaign, Jubilee’s main facility (adjacent to the Craftsman home) has been expanded from 20 beds to 27, making much more efficient use of space in this 1950s-era former convent building. It includes a meditation garden and a new living room and kitchen area for residents.
The renovation is the swan song of outgoing executive director Susan Fox, who has led Jubilee since 2002 and is now moving on to help other organizations achieve the same kind of success she brought Jubilee.
Fox has been everything a board would want in an executive director: a passionate, but pragmatic and adroit leader who takes charge with ease, but listens well. She is personally touched by the issues Jubilee staff confront every day, but she is fully in command of her emotions. Having once battled alcoholism and been faced with impending homelessness herself, she tells her story without attendant shame, nary batting an eye. It’s her best example of how homelessness can happen to any of us.
She came from an upper middle class home and had a master’s degree and a good job working in the U.S. senate in the late ’70s as aide to a Nebraska senator. “By all appearances, I was a success,” she says. “But I was living this secret life.” She and her husband were part of a D.C. scene of professionals who abused alcohol and cocaine. They had raging fights, and in 1981 she left him.
Alcoholism damaged her career. She first lost her job and then her condo. For a time, she couch-surfed, living with her brother and then sister. She found herself without enough money for a rent deposit on an apartment, until her father reluctantly stepped in with a $1,000 loan. She went into recovery for alcoholism and hasn’t had a drink in 21 years. Fox was able to rely on help from family and friends before she fully recovered and could independently support herself again. Without that support network, she would have found herself in the same predicament that drives women to seek shelter at Jubilee. “I’ve never forgotten that feeling of shame,” she says.
The staff and volunteers at Jubilee believe the women who come to them deserve respect and dignity. “There should be no shame in alcoholism, in disability, in economic struggles,” says Fox, listing the main reasons women become homeless. “They are good people. They are talented. They shouldn’t be on the street.”
Jubilee does much more than provide women with respect and with housing. It helps them gain the skills they need to become financially stable, to develop healthy relationships and to maintain a permanent residence. The Life Skills program offers classes and workshops ranging from self-defense and boundary setting classes to time management and résumé writing. It teaches how to cook on a budget and the basics of maintaining a home.
A state-of-the-art Learning and Technology Center works with both residents and other homeless or low-income women to bridge the “digital divide” that can keep them from finding employment. Originally funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the center offers free technology classes and one-on-one coaching.
Jubilee also has social workers who connect residents with additional educational and job training programs, employment resources, health care, mental health therapy and other social service referrals. And an on-site clothing boutique allows women to shop at no cost for consignment-quality clothing.
Carol, a former resident, says “Homeless people don’t need handouts. They need more Jubilees.”
Her own need for Jubilee Women’s Center came about after her arrest for escrow fraud about seven years ago. “My husband of 25 years passed away,” she says, “and I lost it.” Probably always bipolar, but lacking a diagnosis that would explain her extreme mood swings, Carol relied upon her husband to help manage her condition. When he was gone, the bottom dropped out of her world. She was convicted of fraud and given a ten-month sentence. Not that she makes any excuses for her actions — Carol is quick to accept blame, perhaps even too quick. “I’ll never get to the point where I can forgive myself,” she says. “I still cannot believe I did that.”
Recognizing that she had mental health issues and no prior record, the court ordered her to pay restitution and seek counseling, and she served her sentence in a halfway house. In May 2005 her sentence was up, but work at a café didn’t provide a livable wage. Her counselor recommended Jubilee. “I was pretty beat down, emotionally and spiritually,” she says. “I didn’t see that I had any kind of future.”
Andrea Johnson, director of development for Jubilee, says that Carol’s demeanor changed dramatically over the course of her stay at Jubilee. In the beginning, she seemed downtrodden, her posture pulling inward, her head always hung low. She kept to herself, staying in her room and not making friends with the other residents. “We see that with a lot of residents who come in,” says Johnson. “They really need space and time to feel safe.”
While adjustment times vary among individuals, most women feel as if they can “exhale” after three months, which is the cutoff point for emergency shelters. Jubilee allows residents to stay for two years, during which time they work, pay rent, take classes, and slowly move into independence.
In Carol’s case, it took a health crisis before Carol let her defenses down enough to claim Jubilee as her first real home in so many years. She had a heart attack and was in a coma for a while. When she recovered, she realized she wanted to go home, and that meant back to Jubilee. “It was never easy for me to ask for help before,” she says.
took classes at the Learning and Technology Center that brought her up
to speed on the technology changes that occurred during her years
away from professional work. She eventually took a job with a company
that helps those with criminal records find employment.
To find out more about Jubilee Women’s Center and how you can help it continue to offer services to women, visit www.jwcenter.org or contact Andrea Johnson at 206-957-1971.
Due to the poor economy, Jubilee House has seen an influx of women needing housing. Here is a snapshot of the women who applied for residency over the past three months:
Jubilee residents are gaining the tools they need to rebuild their lives:
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