It has been more than a week since Debra West arrived on the doorsteps of her new haven, The Lighthouse Home.
Before coming to the local nonprofit rehabilitation home, West, 50, was incarcerated for four months at Fountain Correctional Center for Women. She had no job, few clothes and $8 on hand, so The Lighthouse Home founder and manager Vanessa Scaife Rorie said she knew West needed help.
“I’m never willing to give up on someone that’s in need,” Rorie said. “There’s a strong connection of sisterhood and solidarity in this house, and I’m not willing to break it up because of what we don’t have.”
Rorie said she is afraid the shelter won’t be able to help those in need because of a decline in donations and the down economy. Eager to continue her outreach, Rorie said she’s seeking financial help from local agencies, grant programs and other civic organizations to keep the doors to her powder-blue, four bedroom and two bathroom shelter open.
Rorie purchased the house on Eastern Avenue in 2001. The dwelling offers shelter to homeless women fighting drug addiction, sickness and poverty – some of the same demons Rorie said she had to overcome.
Eight tenants will occupy the home by January, and each woman is responsible for daily activities, such as volunteering, attending school or finding employment. Tenants who are financially able pay a monthly fee, which covers clothing, Internet, utilities, cable, transportation and food.
The only funding for the home comes from a Rocky Mount Unitarian Universalist Fellowship grant — which totals more than $130 every three months – and out-of-pocket assistance from volunteers.
“There’s a perspective that because this is a business, money is being generated. But that hasn’t been the case,” Rorie said. “I think the community knows we’re here. But I don’t think they want to deal with the risk. ... I’ve proven that I am willing to help our community. Now, I’m asking the community for some help.”
Tieka Martin – president and a volunteer with The Lighthouse Home – said most of the women are unemployed, which puts a strain on monthly finances. This forces her and Rorie to turn away women because of lack of space and money.
Now, Martin said she expects monthly expenses to increase because of higher heating bills because of winter weather.
“We’re barely hanging in there. But we do it because these women depend on us. If we give up, we’re giving up on them,” Martin said. “We’re trying to bring productive women back into society. They’re going to need ever bit of support to make that happen.”
The Lighthouse Home merged into a nonprofit group last August as a way to keep operations afloat in a lagging economy. Rorie said she ultimately hoped the home’s nonprofit status would mean more funding opportunities, mainly because donations are tax deductible.
West said that other transitional homes in the area initially turned her away prior coming to The Lighthouse Home. She said she has thought about leaving the house because she’s not able to offer any type of financial help to the struggling house.
But, West said Rorie has not made that suggestion.
“I’m very grateful for where I’m at and their understanding. Things definitely could’ve been a lot worse for me without these women here,” West said.