Rachael’s Women’s Center, a Place to Call Home

Faithful Okoye

For Virgelina Allen, Rachael’s Women’s Center was a place to go to after she left the homeless shelter in the morning. She would play games, do yoga, and participate in support groups that put her on the path to quit drugs.

Allen said she received advice from the shelter when she first got a job. When she got a new job, she wanted to get a place of her own.

“I ran up all the stairs and said, Michelle, Michelle, I want to find a place of my own,” said Allen. While she wasn’t making much, the staff at Rachael’s helped her find a place she could afford.

The center held an annual open house May 23, celebrating the work of its volunteers.

“We feel this is the most important night at Rachael’s,” Dawn Swan, the executive director, said.

Women from the center performed poetry, sang and shared the experiences they had at the shelter. Volunteers were presented with awards as a thank you for giving their time cleaning, washing dishes and more.

The center provides several services to homeless and formerly homeless women, as well as those on the verge of homelessness. Services include classes in life skills, arts and crafts, poetry, job coaching and other activities.

The center also provides showers and laundry for the homeless and people without income.

Allen now has a place of her own, but she still comes back to Rachael’s often. “I don’t forget where I come from,” she said.

Her story began more than 12 years ago, even before she started visiting Rachael’s, when she dealt with substance abuse and living with a spouse who was also using drugs. She had left her children and followed her ex-husband in a life of substance abuse. It would not be until she left him and started working for another man that life started looking different. She quit drugs and married him.

She said that although she was married, she still wanted to have a place of her own. And until she got a new place, she lived in a shelter. It was there that she learned of the Rachael’s Women’s Center.

From the Harriet Tubman shelter in the morning, she would go to Rachael’s and participate in the different activities. In the evening, she would return to the shelter. She joined a group meeting for people who struggle or once struggled with drug addiction. She has been clean for 12 years.

A few years after Allen beat her addiction, her daughter showed her a personal photo she had scribbled on when she was a kid.

It read: “Mom, would you please come home?”

“I almost cried when I saw the photo,” Allen said.

Looking back, Allen said she would go back if she could.

“I would try to be in no shelter,” she said. “I would try to be in no drugs.”

“I don’t wanna go back there no more,” she said.

Her next goal is to get off of social security and have a house.

Things are looking up for Allen. She said it took a supportive husband and a place like Rachael’s to make it possible.

“I’ll send anyone to Rachael’s,” she said.

“Coming to Rachael’s is like coming to hang out with your girlfriend,” said Therese Mance, activities coordinator at Rachael’s.

“These women really do need a place to call home.”

Issues |Shelters

Region |Northwest|Washington DC

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.