November 18, 2018

Miriam’s House opens doors for struggling women and their children

Rhonda Evans was 40 years old and addicted to drugs when she decided she needed help. She had three sons — two living with her parents and one with her — and she had been living in a motel, cobbling together money to pay for her habits. 

What turned her life around was a place called Miriam’s House, a nonprofit sober home for mothers. From 2007 to 2009, Evans lived at the house and got her life back on track, eventually getting to the point where she went to school to learn substance abuse counseling. 

“It was a passion of mine. After I lived [at the house], I wanted to give back,” said Evans, who is now the home’s program director. 

The West Los Angeles house opened its doors in 2007 and focuses on women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. It has 15 rooms and is currently hosting seven women with little to no income. Residents might just be regaining contact with their children, getting a degree and going to work. 

It sits on a large property and has communal spaces for children to play in and women to gather. There also is a back garden where residents can sit outside and have time alone.  

Miriam’s House is part of the Promises Foundation, started by Lisa Rogg, a holistic medicine expert, licensed acupuncturist and lifelong resident of Los Angeles, along with her husband Richard, who founded Promises Treatment Centers.

“When you are a homeless mother or a mother living below the poverty line, it’s difficult to find help for addiction,” Lisa Rogg said. “Often you are faced with the choice of giving up custody of your child or receiving the support you need. As a mother, it was my mission to help these women keep their families together.”

The home, which is funded by private donors, has a success rate of more than 90 percent for reuniting mothers with their children, according to executive director Brenda Valiente.

“The women are so inspired by their children to become better people,” Rogg said. “When you have that threat of losing a child to the system, you really don’t want to go through that.”

If a woman wants to be admitted to Miriam’s House, she has to be at least 30 days sober and willing to follow the designated schedule, along with Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12 steps of recovery. She can bring along one or two children under the age of 10, who live with her in her room. During the time that she’s there, which can range from a few weeks to a year, her children can attend the public elementary school a few blocks away.  

The staff at Miriam’s House aims to get the women back on track and contributing to society. They make sure the residents are set up with housing after they leave, are able to work at a job or get a degree, and know how to plan for their future. 

“We try to impact their lives,” Valiente said. “We not only believe that they can be self-sufficient, but we give them the tools to make sure they are.” 

Miriam’s House hosts AA and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, offers parenting classes, provides child care, shows the women how to meditate and do yoga, and asks them to prepare and attend nightly dinners. The house also holds celebrations for various holidays, including a Chanukah dinner and candle-lighting in partnership with the Reconstructionist synagogue in Pacific Palisades, Kehillat Israel, which Rogg attends. (Residents do not need to be Jewish, and not many are.)

 Not every woman succeeds during her first stay at the house — about 1 in 15 relapses — but in those cases the woman is welcome to try again. 

“We’ve had women relapse,” Rogg said. “But they show a lot of strength and determination and are then very successful.” 

Valiente said that since the women aren’t forced to be there, they must resolve for themselves to do their best. “The women admitted have shown and agreed to certain standards they will fulfill for being in the program. They have to show that they’re committed to being in recovery.”

Evans said places like Miriam’s House are essential because there are too few organizations for mothers in recovery. “There aren’t a handful of places like this where women with children can get sober and the skills they need to be on their own.”

Like Evans, many of the mothers go on to earn their degrees in social work and become drug and alcohol counselors, Valiente said. They find jobs through outlets like Jewish Vocational Service Los Angeles and the nonprofit Chrysalis. Some residents receive scholarships from the Promises Foundation to fund their education. In terms of housing, the women may go on to live in Section 8 buildings, transitional homes, or apply for help from St. Joseph Center, a nonprofit that helps the needy find housing and treatment for mental illness, as well as receive education and training for jobs 

After women graduate from the program, they are always welcome to reach out for support from their counselors. The house hosts alumni events, like a Mother’s Day gathering, to stay connected to their network of mothers.

“What we’ve learned is the women who stay connected and engaged tend to stay sober,” said Valiente. “They feel like they want to do good in the community and pay it forward.”

By assisting mothers on the road to recovery and allowing them to stay with their children, Rogg said, Miriam’s House is able to make a real impact on their sobriety. 

“I think that being able to keep the family together and not have kids go into the foster care system is probably one of the best preventative measures for stopping the cycle of addiction.”