Making rooms for recovery

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Out along Route V, about 1 1/2 miles from Trail of Tears State Park, you'll find the house where Theresa Taylor lives.

It's nothing fancy, but a newly tiled gray floor in the living room and kitchen gives the place a certain sophistication, more than you might have expected when you first stepped onto the porch. In the kitchen, electrical outlets remain uncovered and black wires dangle from the rectangular holes along the white walls. It's a home-improvement job not quite finished.

This is where Theresa Taylor lives. It's nothing fancy. But for her it's paradise.

To Taylor, home isn't just a teddy-bear word used around the holidays. And it's not a cliche. Home is not where the heart is. Taylor always had a heart, but she hasn't always had a home.

Home is a way of life. It's a life without addiction.

Taylor is trying to make the most of her 17 years on the streets. She wants to use her exhaustive repentance and her personal knowledge of addiction as a resource on how to turn a woman's life around.

She wants women who live on the streets to know what "home" means too.

That's why she and some area churches have started a new not-for-profit organization that owns and will soon operate a house for addicted women making life transitions. Taylor will be the director.

Taylor's past isn't pretty. At 6, her parents and parents' friends laughed at her as she drank herself into a drunken stupor. She smoked pot for the first time at 9. By 12, she ran away from an abusive stepfather in Alton, Ill., and began living on the streets of other towns, where her only friend was immediate gratification. She lived on the streets for 12 years, supporting her drug habit by stripping.

Now 38 years old, Taylor has been clean for nine years. She discovered her problem in prison and fixed it day by day. She no longer finds shelter in the back of a U-Haul, one of the places she used for shelter, but here in a humble paradise on Route V, not far from the Iona Baptist Church.

By March, a building at 10 N. Middle St. will be available to women who are coming off an addiction program but have nowhere to go. The Vision House will be a special place for women who want to change but don't know how to get a job, women who want to build a life but don't know where to get the materials.

The idea started with Taylor.

Well, actually, Taylor said it didn't really start with her. It started with God.

A desire to "give back" had been eating at her for quite some time when Taylor was asked to speak to some addicted women at a family counseling center more than two years ago.

After she spoke about her experiences, a young woman approached her.

"Miss Theresa," she said. "I was clean seven months once and I started up again."

"Why?" Taylor asked.

"Because my kid ..."

Taylor cut the girl off in midsentence.

"I don't want to hear your excuse," she said. "I want to hear your reason."

The girl couldn't come up with an answer. Then she looked back up at Taylor and said, "I'm so sick of smoking crack."

And that's when it hit Taylor. It was then that she decided the area needed transitional housing for female addicts who wanted to quit drugs. She called her pastor at Iona Baptist Church and told him that God had given her a sign as clear as electricity running through her body.

Within five minutes, the Vision House of Cape Girardeau had a sponsor -- Iona Baptist Church. Later, Bethany Baptist joined the effort. Then Fruitland Community Church. Then Millersville First Baptist and Burfordville Baptist.

Two years later, the Vision House has become more than a vision.

Gerald Abernathy, a deacon at Iona Baptist Church, said workers are currently getting the building ready. It's the building that once housed the Safehouse for Women. The facility didn't keep up with its grant-funding requirements, since few abused women actually stayed there.

Instead, the Vision House will be able to meet the requirements of the grant that the Safehouse used, Abernathy said, because it still will be used as transitional shelter. The Vision House will take over the space, which will consist of eight two-bedroom apartments. As the director, Taylor will conduct the interviews and accept and reject applications. A manager will provide daily supervision.

In the beginning, the center will probably only have enough money to operate two of the units, Taylor said.

Taylor, Abernathy and others have already taken care of most of the legalities. The house's inhabitants must meet the following qualifications:

They must be homeless and have nowhere to go.

They must have finished a drug rehabilitation program.

They must stay at least six months and up to two years.

Thirty percent of each resident's income will be set aside. Half will go to a savings account, the other half will go toward secondary education or a down payment for a house.

Each person will also have an individual plan. The plan will include assistance in getting a job and a driver's license, managing money and making smart life decisions.

"They will have to find a starting point," Taylor said. "I tell people instead of telling people that they've changed -- because people have heard that before -- that they need to just do it. Let people see for themselves."

Taylor and her husband, David, have already helped six homeless women at their own house on Route V.

So far, Taylor says, her success rate is over 50 percent.

She and Abernathy expect that the Vision House will be abused by some. Some who play the system will use it as a shelter long enough to regroup and then go right back to the drugs. But because this will be a faith-based organization sponsored by Project HOPE -- and not a governmental agency -- the Vision House will have the authority to kick the abusers out, Abernathy said.

"So many times with the way the system is set up," Taylor said, "people want to change but don't get the chance. There's not enough out there. Addiction is only 10 percent of it. The other 90 percent is reprogramming your life."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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