As some of you know, Blue Thread is about a 16-year-old girl who discovers an ancient prayer shawl. Embroidered on this magical garment is a phrase from the Bible with the commandment to pursue justice. One of the organizations that pursues justice for women in the here and now is Micah House.
I asked Ed Lazere, president of Micah House and the executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute in Washington, DC, to tell us more.
What is Micah House? Micah House, is in fact, a house. A single family home in Washington DC with four bedrooms. We use those bedrooms to provide transitional housing to women in recovery from substance abuse. Working with a case manager, the women build confidence, work on job skills, address credit problems, and rebuild family connections. After two years, most are ready to live on their own.
Micah House provides the tools for success–a nice home and case management–but the women have to do all the work. The success is theirs. So we give women the ability to achieve the success that they are capable of.
Who are the women that Micah House serves? They are all women who have been homeless in Washington, DC, sometimes for decades, as a result of an addiction. By the time they come to Micah House, they have hit rock bottom, decided to turn their lives around, and gone through substance abuse treatment. They come to Micah House committed to reclaiming their lives.
Why did you decide to start Micah House? Pastor John Steinbruck (of Luther Place Memorial Church) in DC issued a challenge in the 1980s to all congregations: to create one house for the homeless. Temple Micah (a Jewish congregation in DC) took that challenge.
How many women have you helped since you started? We have been in existence for 22 years and have served nearly 100 women.
If Micah House had a million dollars, what would you do with it? We would buy more homes to serve more women. In addition to buying transitional housing, we would buy homes that could be rented as permanently affordable housing for Micah House graduates. Too many of Micah House’s current residents face huge challenges as they leave our program, because the supply of even moderately affordable housing is disappearing. Is someone offering $1 million? Thanks!
There are lots of big organizations out there for women. Why bother with helping a few people at a time? Micah House is what is manageable for the board and Temple Micah community. But being small has allowed us to provide extra special service to our residents, many of whom call Micah House “the best kept secret in DC.” A small program with heavy board involvement also leads to connections between board members and residents, bridging class and race and religious divides, that wouldn’t happen with a larger program.
Is it harder to be homeless if you are a woman? It is hard to be homeless period, but homeless women often are victims of violence.
Micah House was started by Jewish people who belong to Temple Micah. Shouldn’t a temple stick to caring for Jews in need? Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase, but it is about repairing “the world.” That’s the whole shebang. Not just the Jewish world.
How can teens help homeless women and girls? Homeless people are, well, people, but they often are seen as something different. Homeless people feel isolated and neglected. Anything you can do to make a connection–saying hello and making eye contact on the street, volunteering at a soup kitchen and actually sitting down to talk with clients, working with homeless children who need playtime. There must be other ways, too.
Thanks, Ed. And thank you, Micah House.
I stayed long enough to find the dream, and I went on with the dream. Living at Micah House…was the opportunity of a lifetime. — R.M.