With occupancy permit in hand, House of Hope close to opening

There’s a place in Warren for women working on their recovery from substance abuse while re-entering society.

That place is House of Hope, and now its doors are open.

After purchasing the residence at 316 Hazel Street last spring, House of Hope faced a challenge. In order to be used as transitional housing for women released from incarceration as envisioned, the building had to meet uniform construction code standards.

Those standards are higher for housing multiple, unrelated individuals who don’t own the property than they would be for a private family or group of friends and included things like meeting standards for accommodating the disabled and public building code requirements.

In all, work to bring the facility up to code, and secure an occupancy permit allowing the women the House of Hope board envisioned helping to move in, was estimated at a cost of approximately $75,000.

Thanks to a lot of hard-working volunteers and generous donations, that cost was cut by almost $30,000.

“We started doing the necessary work in July,” board member Gary Lester said on Wednesday. “We’re up to over 1,000 hours in volunteer work.”

All that hard work is beginning to pay off.

Following an inspection on Feb. 12 and two days later House of Hope got a unique Valentine’s Day present its occupancy permit.

While the permit is a 90-day temporary permit, board member Grace Zerbe noted all that is needed to make it permanent is an elevator inspection, which is scheduled.

After that, the house can start accepting residents.

It was a long road to get to where the organization is.

“The purchase of the house was accomplished through large donations from local philanthropists and foundations,” Zerbe said, “so we don’t owe any money on the house.”

“The work for upgrades was paid for with small donations,” board member Carl McKee added.

All of the furniture in the house was donated as well.

There were also donations of services from Williams Architectural Design, John Vitmier, Preferred Enterprises, Sean Putt, Cummings and countless work hours from volunteer laborers.

“There are many private individuals who donated their time,” Zerbe said. “We don’t anticipate having any staff. This isn’t a board that has a whole lot of overhead.”

Lester, who organized the volunteer labor on the project, also cited the work release program inmates at the jail as a boon to the project.

“Work release donated some of their time,” he noted. “Many of them were accomplished craftsman.”

“So we’re at the point we are without owing any money,” Zerbe pointed out. “Now we have to gear up to fund-raise to cover costs for maintenance and upkeep, which we haven’t had to do. The backbone of our organization is going to be monthly contributions to keep the house running.”

“The roof is our last capital expense,” McKee added. “I think we just need to really express our appreciation to the community for people’s willingness to step up.”

“Now we’re waiting (for residents),” board member Dianne Sherman said. “There’s basically one waiting. Now we’re waiting for them get out of jail.”

Sherman noted an entire houseful was waiting just a month ago, but was not able to move in until an occupancy permit was secured.

“We had enough to fill the house when we opened the doors,” Zerbe said.

“It’s probably best we didn’t,” McKee posited. “We should probably start with three or four and kind of get our feet wet.”

The four touted the benefits of the project.

“One of the problems we’ve had at the county level is a ballooning female prison population,” McKee noted. “They’re disproportionately people with drug and alcohol problems. If we can release them into an environment without to pressure to use, it would reduce the problem.”

“Our main goal is to reduce the rate of re-imprisonment,” Zerbe said. “On the individual level, it’s to break the cycle of recidivism and help them get their lives in order.”

“They know us from in the jail for support programs and the bible study,” Sherman said, “and we know them.”

“It’s a continuation of those relationships,” Zerbe added.

“When it comes to the female population (at the jail) it’s almost entirely drugs or relationship problems related to drugs,” McKee noted.

Residents in the house will also have services from across the community available to aid them in their recovery. That’s something, according to Sherman, that will not be limited to residents of the house.

“They will be open to other women in the community,” Sherman said of any programs available in the house, adding it’s also a place to go for women facing temptation to release, “Since I’ve been here, it already is.”

“There’s a team of people involved in providing a number of positive relationships and enhancements,” McKee said. “The more positive relationships you have the better.”

Opportunities for hobbies and learning life skills will be available.

“They’ll have to work,” Zerbe noted. “They’ll need to get a job. They’ll be required to participate in the operation of the house.”

“Cleaning, dishes, getting groceries… life skills,” Lester added, noting opportunities to learn music and art will be available. “The chance will be there for developing hobbies that everyone should have.”

“It will work around the recovery,” Sherman noted. “That needs to come first. They’ll be working their recovery.”

“This is a recovery environment,” Lester agreed. “We’re upping the odds with the support and the number of supports available. All of the supports and resources of the community will be available here.”

Lester noted the house will be non-denominational as well.

“The problems are everywhere,” he said. “The solutions should be ecumenical.”

While a number of services and opportunities will be available at the house, formal counseling will be off-site.

Zerbe noted that while the cost of maintaining a facility like House of Hope is high, running into the tens of thousands of dollars per year, it’s still less expensive than keeping those incarcerated for substance abuse issues incarcerated.

McKee, who is also head of Warren County Adult Probation, cited a figure of $2,077 per month to house an inmate.

“For every dollar you spend on treatment, you save taxpayers seven dollars,” Zerbe said, citing a figure from the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers of Pennsylvania.

There are also less tangible benefits to a community, according to the board members.

“We’re not just affecting the women here,” Zerbe said. “We’re impacting the people they have relationships with. The children they have or might have. Once you get it started it’s multi-generational.”

Once the weather improves and the house has residents, Sherman said an open house is planned.

“After the girls are here they want to be a part of the open house,” Sherman said.

“They are invested,” Zerbe added.

Further information on House of Hope can be found at herhouseofhope.wix.com/houseofhope.

Donations to House of Hope go directly to maintaining the program and the physical house.