ORANGE — Huge stuffed animals sat like sentinels in the corners of the House of Hope's spacious lobby, as volunteers painted doors and hung pictures Wednesday for the opening today of the largest shelter in the nation for homeless women and children.
The huge home, on a quiet street near Chapman University, was built with $3 million given by 4,000 private donors and labor donated by builders over the past three years.
The 1940s Craftsman style home beginning today will house two women and three children. Five more families are expected within two weeks, said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Orange County Rescue Mission, which will operate the shelter.
Ten years ago, Palmer said, homeless mothers numbered so few in Orange County that the mission didn't count them. Now, he said, it estimates their number at 6,000.
Those invited to the House of Hope will find 20 spacious bedrooms with separate bathrooms, a children's playroom, a counseling room--particularly for victims of spousal abuse--and a health clinic.
It also has training classrooms and 15 computers designed to guide women through an 18-month rehabilitation period to prepare for jobs and independence.
"The goal is not just to provide services but hope," Palmer said. "We found that (the women) needed a comprehensive approach to getting back on their feet."
The house rules will require that the women cease receiving government aid and pursue jobs, Palmer said.
"There's a cycle of dependence on the government. We want to cut off that cycle."
The 21,000-square-foot house was built primarily by Standard Pacific Corp., William Lyon Homes Inc. and Wormington Homes, working through HomeAid Orange County, a nonprofit program of the Building Industry Assn. for the homeless. The building group contributed about $1 million to the house.
"The project was so huge that no one company could do it," said Scott Hearty, director of purchasing for Standard Pacific Corp. "The whole concept was to divide work in segments."
More than 100 subcontractors took turns working on the construction, he said.
Standard Pacific, based in Costa Mesa, has been building heavily in Orange, and the House of Hope was "a good chance to give back to a city that has been good to us," Hearty said.
Palmer, who said members of the mission researched other homeless shelters for women, said this is the largest in the nation. It will house a maximum of 45 people.
Women and their children, who must be 10 years or younger, will be referred to the home through public service agencies, churches and community groups. The shelter will attempt to stagger the times that families enter the home to ensure a regular and uncrowded flow through the 18-month phase.