This past March Elaine Webber became the newest Program Assistant at N Street Village’s Bethany Women’s Center. Each day she welcomes newcomers and regulars with a warm smile and an attentive ear. Some may come simply for a shower or a meal while others are seeking treatment for an addiction. Elaine listens to their problems and helps them access N Street Village’s various services.
Elaine’s number one priority for each woman who walks through the door is to make sure she feels welcome. When a woman tells Elaine that she doesn’t know what being homeless is like, Elaine responds simply, “Yes, I do.”
That’s because for ten years, Elaine lived on the streets of Washington. She spent her days at a bus stop drinking and wandered the streets at night, sleeping on church steps or in apartment hallways. She was estranged from her family. She ate out of a trash can.
That was six years ago. Today, Elaine is sober. She has an apartment of her own. She has reconnected with her family. And she has a job that she loves. When Elaine reflects on her life now and where she’s been, she exclaims emphatically, “This is awesome!”
Elaine’s story is about the power of community, the power of hope.
When she was living on the streets, Elaine first came to N Street Village for a meal. When Bethany Women’s Center manager Evelyn Green asked her for her name, she reluctantly gave it, but made sure not to come back for a long time. As a homeless woman struggling with addiction, she felt invisible and wanted to stay that way.
One day Elaine met a friend from the streets who had entered the Village’s Recovery Housing program. She was impressed with the changes she had made. A seed was planted, and one year later, she had her last drink and also entered our Recovery Housing program.
Elaine knows firsthand the healing power of N Street Village. For Elaine, N Street Village is a community of hope, dignity, and respect. After coming to the Village, she received treatment for her high cholesterol and high blood pressure. She participated in yoga, meditation, aerobics, and poetry classes while also attending group meetings to deal with her addiction. She met with a psychiatrist regularly to discuss her depression. Working as a volunteer receptionist in the dental clinic, Elaine gained valuable job experience.
Today, Elaine is the one who makes sure that no woman feels invisible. Her own story serves as an inspiration to the homeless women she works with every day. She knows what it’s like for them — to struggle with addiction, to feel invisible and hopeless. But more importantly she also knows what it’s like to get your life back. And each day when she comes to work, that’s what she helps women do.
By Shane Yost, Manager of Individual Giving – story originally published in N Street Village’s Village Voice newsletter.