Lee Ann takes her first steps into a new life

Hope House offers her an apartment of her own

The day she got out of prison, Lee Ann s visited her parole officer. He didn’t even raise his eyes to look at her as he worked on her paperwork. Had he looked, he would have seen a woman in her fifties who looked much older than that after years of harsh living on the streets. And knowing what he did about her—couldn’t hold a job, couldn’t keep her kids, couldn’t stay away from drugs—he felt he didn’t have to look to see her face or know her future.

“I’ll see you back in prison in two weeks,” he muttered.

As she walked out the door, she could feel something swell up inside her. “Just watch me,” she thought.

She had planned to go from the parole office to the apartment of some friends. But she knew how much they drank. As she looked at the sidewalk stretching out toward the apartment, she knew it would lead her straight back to the dope. Without anywhere to go but the streets, she began to feel as if her parole officer was right; maybe meth was bigger than her.

Then she remembered Hope House. She had learned about the shelter from someone at the needle exchange. She had taken the woman’s advice and stayed at the shelter—for just one night—during one of many failed attempts to get clean.

That one night was enough for her to know that Hope House was the safest place for her to be. So she turned the corner and just kept walking—because she couldn’t go back. And when she arrived at Hope House, with nothing but the clothes on her back, she felt different. Instead of numb and desperate—she felt relieved and grateful.

Inside the 34-bed shelter, she not only had a shower, a hot meal, and a safe, warm place to lay down her worries, she also met Margaret—her new case worker. They sat down in Margaret’s office and began to mark a path for Lee Ann to leave homelessness behind her forever.

Margaret could see that Lee Ann was serious about rebuilding her life. And just a week and a half after Lee Ann arrived at the shelter, Margaret offered her one of the 25 apartments upstairs, where she could work to stay off drugs and put her life back together. That same day, Margaret helped her find a job working in the kitchen at a nearby restaurant.

It should have been the happiest day of Lee Ann’s life. But on her way up the stairs to her new apartment, the reality of the situation hit her. She didn’t have sheets or silverware. She didn’t even have an alarm clock to wake up for her new job the next morning.

It was like she was a kid again and waking up to find she was all grown up and had no clue how to be responsible. She had been on the streets off and on since she was 17 years old—she had never had a place of her own.

As she put her foot on the first step she remembered how scary that life had been—she had overdosed on the cold pavement, she’d been attacked by strangers and had to fight for her life. But nothing she’d seen on the streets was as scary as the 23 steps between her and the second floor of Hope House.

But she knew she couldn’t keep running from her life, her addiction, her failures and herself. So she put her foot on the next step, one after another, until she walked through the door of her new apartment and across the threshold of a new life.

It is not always smooth going; Lee Ann still suffers from bouts of nightmares, panic attacks and agoraphobia. But Margaret and all the Hope House staff, were right there by her side, walking with her as she made good decisions and built the skills she needed to make it on her own. After two years at Hope House, Lee Ann moved out into a freshly remodeled one-bedroom apartment of her own. She has been attending the local community college and just completed her first quarter in a two-year Culinary Arts program—with straight A’s.

Now more than three-and-a-half years clean and sober, she volunteers at Hope House and helps out in the kitchens at other local shelters. She also volunteers as a guide with educational tours about homelessness in Spokane.

These days, you might find Lee Ann leading a group past shelters for teens and men as they serve their evening meals, or taking them under overpasses and past the plasma center and detox facilities.

But she always stops at Hope House where she pauses in the same spot she stood in almost four years ago—outside the shelter doors in the dark of night.

“If it weren’t for Hope House, I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now,” she says to the small crowd gathered in the pool of light under the doorway. 

She stands tall as she tells them her story. There is light in her face and courage in her voice as she explains the next chapter of her life; she plans to open a ministry for women coming out of prison. She wants to give other women what Hope House gave her. Now that she is strong, she can reach back to hold the hand of a woman who is struggling, and stay with her until she can stand on her own.