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Thanksgiving Stories

Mondloch House I celebrates a successful first year.

Hiruye Afework is thankful that he has a roof over his head. More than that, after seven years of living on the streets, he has a room of his own, a computer and a television.

Laura Martin, case manager with Mondloch House I, hopes that after a year in the Mondloch House, Afework will soon be able to live on his own.

“There’s nowhere else for him to go now, so as long as he’s benefiting from the program he can stay,” Martin said.

Mondloch House I is New Hope Housing's latest initiative. Started a year ago, it is meant for the chronically homeless who have nowhere else to go. Unlike other shelters that have stringent requirements, Mondloch operates with few guidelines for residents. They work with each individual on a one-to-one basis.

“They don’t need to ask permission to go out, but we do ask them to tell us where they’re going,” Martin said.

To celebrate their anniversary, New Hope Housing held a special reception at Mondloch House I. On hand were staff members from New Hope; representatives from The Lamb Center and guests from the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board.

Afework and other residents also attended the reception. Speaking with Afework, he said that he had been homeless for six years when he moved in with his brother and his wife. When that didn’t work out, he became homeless again. He talks about the dangers of being on the street, how he and others liked to stay near Union Station because it was safe there. Afework said that he was arrested at least 25 times, mostly for harassing others and trespassing.

“It wasn’t working and I had no hope,” Afework said. “Then somebody told me about The Lamb Center.”

While The Lamb Center doesn’t provide shelter, they do provide food and resources during the day. They are also there for counseling and spiritual guidance. It was through The Lamb Center that Afework was eventually referred to Mondloch House and given a place to stay.

“I was homeless for so long. This is like living in heaven,” Afework said.

THE LAMB CENTER WAS ALSO A BIG HELP for Mary Mastropaolo. Living in her Ford Focus for a year, she found that she was able to get the assistance she needed at The Lamb Center.

“The Lamb Center is a godsend for people like me,” Mastropaolo said. “It saved my life. I had no money and couldn’t pay my bills — it sustained me.”

Left homeless after the courts placed a restraining order on her from seeing her family, Mastropaolo said that living on the street was very new to her.

“I led a wholesome life,” she said. “I don’t like street life; I don’t do alcohol or drugs.”

Once on the street, however, she found that she had to rely on charity. The Lamb Center paid for her prescription drugs and gave her vouchers to pay for gas.

She was also referred to Mondloch and has been living there since August.

“I’m just settling in; it takes awhile to adjust,” she said. “It really makes a difference having a roof over your head and heat.”

She remembers how she was chilled to the bone during the winter. Mastropaolo also remembers that her knees became bent after sleeping in the Ford Focus every night.

“I’ve been stopped so many times by the police,” she said. “They would come by the car and tap on the door — they were checking to see if I was dead.”

AT FIRST GLANCE the house looks like one that college students would share. A nice-sized living area has a big screen television and comfortable seating. Next to that is a kitchen and here lies one of the differences — residents do not cook for themselves. All meals are prepared at Mondloch House, the main family residence across the street.

Seven bedrooms provide accommodations for eight residents. Martin wishes that they could accommodate more and said that there is always a waiting list. To date they’ve had 15 residents pass through the program.

The first resident in the program was a 63-year-old woman who had lived in a tent for years. She is now living in an apartment on her own. Other previous residents include a 37-year-old man who lived in the woods for five years; a 52-year-old man who had lived on the streets for years and attempted suicide multiple times; a 51-year-old woman who had lived in the streets and woods for years; and a 53-year-old woman who slept in doorways.

All of those people now have permanent housing.

During their stay in Mondloch House, the residents gain more than just a roof over their heads. They receive legal, medical, dental and counseling services. Martin said that they also learn life skills like hygiene.

“These are the things we take for granted,” Martin said. “But they have to learn new habits and new patterns.”

To make it fun, Martin held a Spa Day. Counselors brought in their own supplies and taught residents how to use them.

“The challenge we have is to communicate success,” Martin said. “Taking a shower and using soap and water is an accomplishment.”

Martin is proud of their record that they’ve had no arrests. She is also pleased to see that the residents get along and that most of them attend the optional weekly house meeting.

“Rather than rules, we focus on building trust and working with people one on one to get to know them, their challenges and their needs,” said Pam Michell, executive director, New Hope Housing. “When trust is built, residents are far more likely to follow staff recommendations for services — such as trips to the dentist, medical services, benefits and behavior changes such as hygiene and group interaction.

"The other difference between us and other programs is the small size which enables us to do voluntary creative programs such as writing group, coloring mandalas and going on field trips.”