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TAKING BACK THEIR LIVES
HOMESPACE NURTURES THE SEEDS OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY IN HOMELESS PEOPLE

They've graduated out of Buffalo's Fourth World -- the world of the homeless. They're the ultimate survivors.

About 100 young single parents, mostly women, have found jobs and come home permanently through a program started by area Episcopalians who were disturbed that families were being turned away at shelters.

Located at 1030 Ellicott St., Homespace townhouses shelter young parents learning how to be self-sufficient. Homeless people need more than a place to sleep, and now Homespace, which is sponsoring a graduation ceremony Friday, is building another group home for younger teen parents who need a hand in improving their job, health, child care and bootstrap skills, sometimes for up to two years.

"This is a place where they can find comfort and warmth, as well as learn and grow," said Karen Smith, Homespace program coordinator. There's a children's activity center, a community courtyard, and a meeting room for classes and workshops.

It can take a long time to find a good job and get re-established. The transition time from homeless to self-sufficient is usually from nine to 24 months. Parents learn to plan nutritious meals and manage time, stress and money, as well as take part in educational or vocational training. It's the path to an independent life, hope for the future, away from the choking grasp of poverty.

Smith also works on bolstering self-esteem for residents, so they don't just survive but succeed.

"Sometimes the sense of self-worth is not there," she said. "They're starting at rock-bottom, and we have to build them up so they can go out and get a job or their education." Residents are participants rather than tenants, and are offered counseling and support groups.

Funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, nonprofit Home-space also has corporate sponsors such as United Parcel Service, which delivered a much-welcomed "package" of $100,000.

"Homespace provides transitional housing to single parents willing to work to better their lives," said Executive Director Thelma Roberts, who grew up in a family with 11 children. "Many of these families are in social isolation. Some of the residents are socially wounded by living with others who did not have their best interests at heart."

Even after Friday's graduation, Homespace staff will follow up on families. There's also a mentoring program -- the Adoptive Kinship Program, which provides a year of "family-to-family support" to single-parent families.

Homespace accommodates a dozen families at a time. There's a waiting list, but the program is accepting applications from any homeless, single parent, 18 to 25 years old, with up to three children no older than 6.

The organization also accepts applications from young women in the last trimester of pregnancy.

"We were getting inquiries from girls 15, 16 and 17 years old. You don't want children to have the same kind of patterns their parents experienced," Smith said. "You want to break the cycle."

An avid gardener, Thelma Roberts introduced home-grown vegetables and flowers to the Homespace grounds. "This is a family-oriented place," she said, "and it just made the grounds more beautiful and homelike."

And as a gardener, she knows that growth needs more than just planting. That's the kind of nurturing care she has seen flourish with her now-rooted families.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com.

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