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Safe house

"Safe house" Continued...

Issue: "Orphaned no more," July 30, 2011

The discussion of biblical oneness for these women, some ex-prostitutes, was both bracing and hopeful. "You know sometimes in sex we were looking for intimacy, but actually we never felt so far away from it." Hernandez said: "Sharing yourself with so many men, there's not much room left for a husband. But we can all be virgins again if we are committed to God's plan for sex in our lives."

Increasingly, the path to the Bowery Center is not a drunken stumble but a trip through cyberspace. Raised by an alcoholic mother, Gail Smith had a history of giving too much love, money, and herself to men who gave little in return. After she lost her job in the financial sector and gave one too many loans to an abusive boyfriend, Smith found herself homeless and sleeping on her sister's couch. She researched the Bowery women's home online but was hesitant: "It took me a while to look at it. You know as a kid you hear about the 'Bowery bums.'"

Still, Smith saw her brother was turning his life around at the Bowery men's program downtown. She liked the idea that she could enter a residency program and not just a shelter. She went through the red doors.

-Jill Lacey for many years edited Compassion and Culture.

Video and photos by James Allen Walker for WORLD (jamesallenwalker.com)

Listen to a report on Bowery Mission Women's Center on The World and Everything in It.

Bowery Mission Women's Center

Location: New York City, N.Y.

Size: 20 residents, 60 graduates in five years

Staffing: Six full-time employees and dozens of volunteers

Annual Budget: $439,000, all privately funded

Website: bowery.org/programs/programs-women

Read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2011 on WORLD's Hope Award page.

More than meals

"I was in my lowest pit," says Samantha Smith, a 15-year crack addict and former prostitute. "But I knew God was saying, 'Enough!' I mean, a lot of weird things started to happen." She marvels at her path to sobriety. "I would run into people that I would be trying to buy drugs from and they would start talking about NA and AA [addiction programs]."

One day in Cincinnati, Samantha was high and lying on the floor of a crack house. The radio in the corner started playing a gospel program. She broke down and prayed, "Lord please don't let me die." She knew she needed a long-term approach. Her mother found the Capital City Rescue Mission (CCRM) in Albany, N.Y., and volunteered to take care of her kids. Samantha arrived in Albany with one bag of clothes: "I was terrified, I didn't know anyone," she says. "I just knew I was ready to stop using."

The New Faith Family Center at CCRM accommodates up to 35 women like Samantha in its residential two-year program. When Perry and Susan Jones came to direct the Mission in 1982, their goal was to move individuals toward long-term recovery, not just provide them with meals and shelter. "I knew we needed to deal with the bad attitudes and issues of reconciliation," Perry says. The women's program began in 2003 and occupies four residential buildings. Along with a comfortable apartment, women receive career training, life and parenting skills, spiritual support, and counseling.

"God started to show me some hard things about myself and my anger, bitterness, resentment toward others in my life." Samantha says. At the age of 7 she was sexually molested. Other trauma followed, but God began stripping her of destructive thought patterns and behavior. He also gave her a new identity: "He said to me, 'You are not a mother, a sister, a prostitute. You are a child of God.'"

Her life started to change: "I couldn't even pick up a drink. But the hardest thing for me, the last thing to go, was sexual desire." Even after completing the program she struggled in that area and became pregnant. "I was so ashamed of what people might think of me," Samantha says. "I used to come around and visit Perry and Susan all the time. Then I just stopped." Samantha recalls "a little voice in my head saying, 'You can get an abortion.'" But God spoke louder, saying, "I know all things. I know you."

She finally returned to the mission "and told Perry what was going on. He put his arms around me in a big hug and just prayed with me." She tears up remembering that moment of grace: "All I remember is the love everyone gave me."

Now Samantha is looking to the future. "I get a chance to be a mom and be there and be clean."

Note: Last names of Gail and Samantha were changed to protect privacy.

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