Baltimore County

Formerly homeless, women enter new lives

Lisa Davis was pregnant when she lost her $9-an-hour job at the Sears outlet store in Timonium. Unable to pay her $495 monthly rent, she was evicted from her apartment.

Davis was caring for a 2-year-old daughter, and she was forced to live with relatives, finally moving in with her grandmother in Loch Raven. She became so depressed, she said, that she tried to kill herself.

But Tuesday evening, Davis and 19 other formerly homeless women were recognized for achieving financial independence and completing the INNterim Housing Corp. program at a graduation ceremony at St. Thomas Church in Owings Mills. The transitional housing center for homeless women and children works to find permanent homes and jobs for single women with families.

"We help rebuild their lives," said INNterim's executive director Ca Sandra Winchester.

Davis said she heard about the opportunity through another employment assistance program. She lived at INNterim from January to September last year.

Davis said she had wanted to go to cosmetology school, but she didn't have a high school equivalency certificate. The program helped her earn the certificate and also helped steer her to a career in health care.

The 25-year-old, now a geriatric nursing assistant at Good Samaritan Hospital, will begin nursing school in the fall at Sojourner-Douglass College.

"I get to see the women when they come in ... and I get to see them walking out and the return of confidence," Winchester said.

During Tuesday's ceremony, Winchester shared words of encouragement with the women who completed the program.

"Realize that you are victorious," she said. "You can do this."

About a dozen graduates attended the event, and many accepted their diplomas with one hand while holding a child in the other.

When one child ran across the room yelling during her remarks, Catrice Greer, a current resident in the program, took the opportunity to say, "We're all wailing. We need help and assistance, and we don't know where to turn."

In 2009, 95 percent of INNterim residents who completed the program found permanent housing and 75 percent were employed, earning at least $10 an hour, according to the center. In order for women to qualify for the program, they must be Baltimore County residents and homeless. There are about 20 families currently on a waiting list.

Some who graduated from the program Tuesday said they were looking forward to new opportunities.

"It's sad to leave the people, but it's exciting, exhilarating. Especially debt-free. You know how important that is," Nicole Wilks, 33, of Essex said after the event.

"I'm excited and relieved," said Cheryl Simon, 39, of Randallstown. "You have a new life and a new beginning."