When Sharon Palladin arrived in Southern California last November, it took her only a week to line up a job. But Palladin, 22, who had lived on the streets most of her life, had no money and no place to live.
She had heard about the job from her only friend in California, but that woman couldn't take her in and it would be some time before Palladin could scrape together the necessary first and last month's rent.
Palladin found help through Hestia House, an 8-month-old residence program sponsored by the Pasadena-Foothill Valley YWCA that provides free housing for women and their children who are in financial trouble. Most of the clients have either recently lost jobs or gone through divorces, but some, like Palladin, who spent many years in foster homes and shelters, have never been able to get on their own feet financially.
'Never Settled Down'
"I didn't know how to handle life and I have never been settled down, but this is going to happen now," Palladin said recently.
Residents initially stay for two weeks at the house, a light, airy, cheerful home in Pasadena accommodating 15 women and children in five bedrooms, but stays can be extended to six weeks. The average stay is four to five weeks--long enough for the women to assess their situations and work toward long-term solutions to their problems. It is one of the few shelters where women can stay for an extended period of time.
"We are a program that takes place in a center," said director Margaret Potvin. "This is not just a place to stay. We help them get back on their feet so they can find a job and their own place to live. We want our people never to have to do this again," Potvin said.
Palladin, 22, lived at Hestia House the maximum six weeks before she saved enough money to move into a room she rents in a small home in Pasadena. She has been working as a customer service representative for Alcor Financial Services Inc. for five months, the longest she has ever held a job. And she has lived in her rented room for more than four months, longer than she has ever stayed in the same place.
Proud to Pay a Bill
"It makes me so proud to pay off a bill because I am standing on my own two feet," Palladin said recently.
She returns to Hestia House as a volunteer at least once a week in an effort to help others still struggling to resolve financial problems.
"I wanted to get my act together and Hestia House provided counseling and a lot of support," she said as she stacked cans of food in the home's pantry. "They do everything they can to stretch out a helping hand, but you have to want help to make it.
"They show you valid ways to get on your feet and all you have to do is be willing to try them. But the basic thing is they show you they care."
Opened Last September
Since the house opened last September, 60 homeless women have found shelter there, Potvin said. More than half of the women have found jobs and about half now live in their own places, Potvin said. The others have moved in with relatives but are making progress in their search for independence.
That is exactly what a wealthy donor, who insists on anonymity, had in mind when she gave the YWCA the funds needed to set up the shelter. She got the idea after personal crises in her life led her to wonder how she might have coped if she hadn't had money.
The donor also suggested the name Hestia, after the Greek goddess of the hearth. In Greek mythology, people can find sanctuary with Hestia and, when they are ready to move, take embers from her hearth to start their own homes.
The shelter, which operates on an annual budget of $126,000, also receives funds from United Way, the Junior League of Pasadena and individual donors.
Each of the women has a cupboard shelf in the kitchen for food, which is provided as part of the program. The women do their own cooking and are responsible for the upkeep of the place.
"It is a highly structured living environment because when people are in crisis they need this," Potvin said.
The house is almost always full. There are usually about 10 women and five children living at the shelter, which provides counseling and offers workshops at night. During the day the place is empty--the women must make their own child-care arrangements and are expected to be out job hunting or looking for a permanent place to live.
Free Bus Tickets
Because most do not have transportation, the city of Pasadena provides free bus tickets for work and housing searches.
Most of the women who end up at the house have heard about it through churches, other shelters or the YWCA. The Y does not keep a waiting list, but Potvin said records indicate that there have been 800 calls about Hestia House since it opened.
When an opening occurs, volunteers talk to potential residents by phone. Residents must be in a state of financial crisis, able to live in a group setting and willing to work toward self-sufficiency.
"There are many reasons why a woman might need Hestia House," Potvin said.
On Poverty's Edge