The village is expanding in Overtown

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Lotus House founder, Constance Collins.

Andrea Robinson

Jun 7, 2017

Thursday morning, executives and others stood in front the shell of an Overtown building that supporters say will be an even bigger lifeline for women in distress and their children.

Officials offered a brief tour of the expanded Lotus Village, described as a state-of-the-art homeless shelter dedicated to serving women and children. The ceremony was to celebrate the completion of the building’s roof. Construction for the larger facility is estimated at $25 million, which was funded through private donations and philanthropic organizations.

Lotus House founder Constance Collins led the tour, along with Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, Ron Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust, executives from The Children’s Trust and grateful alumna who said the shelter gave them new life.

 

Take Rai Johnson, the health and wellness director at the Village, 217 NW 15th St. She also is an alumna who through help from the shelter and her church community was able to get a place to stay and break a bad crack addiction. Last year she earned a master’s in Social Work.

“My goal has been strong,” Johnson said. “I don’t think I would have done it had I not gone through Lotus House.”

In its 11th year, March 1, 2006, Lotus House is the only shelter that caters housing, mental and physical health services and training exclusively for women and children in Miami. The existing buildings provide space for more than 250 women, youth and children per day, far less than the demand. Officials say they turn away at least 2,000 year. The expanded facility will have space for 500.

While on site, the women receive more than food and shelter. They get counseling, job readiness training, and employment coaching. Once they leave, many of them return to work on staff.

But getting to this point wasn’t clear-cut. Lotus House officials went through more than a year of hearings before city board to get zoning changes needed for construction. They then had to get through multiple hearings before the Miami City Commission, and complaints from people in nearby high-rises who didn’t want the shelter to expand, said Collins.

“The people who are here are not interested in pricy high-rise condos. “They’re interested in the services that Lotus House has provided for a decade,” Collins said. She said some vocal detractors came around, and a number ended up supporting the project.

 

But the project also got deep support from Historic Overtown. About 365 residents who live in area signed to support the project.

“We had deep neighborhood support,” Collins said. “Many of the historic African American churches signed letters of support.”

 

At each hearing, Collins, Johnson and scores of Black and Hispanic women jammed City Hall to plead their case to keep the project alive. Often they wore bright pink shirts with green lettering with a message to save their facility.

Though the approval process has taken a while, Lotus House administrators received support from county and state elected and appointed officials. The Overtown Advisory Board gave its blessing, as did several venerable churches, including the Historic Mt. Zion Baptist, St. John’s Institutional Greater Bethel AME, and the Historic St. Agnes Episcopal Church.

Collins said that in 11 years, they’ve proven themselves to be good neighbors. “We eat at the restaurants, bank here. Those who live here patronize the businesses,” she said. “When you are a support system for your own neighborhood it makes a difference.”

One reason for the strong support is a community health clinic that provide health screenings and treatment for women who are uninsured or underinsured. The clinic is open to everyone regardless where they live. Collins said some women come as far as Liberty City.

Johnson was one of those women.

She grew up in Liberty City in a middle-class home. Her mother was an educator. At some point, Johnson got swept up in the crack-cocaine rage that decimated many homes. She fell out with her parents, her sibling and other relatives to the point she had nowhere to turn.

 

She eventually wound up living in the streets.

“There was a time in my life when I had no one,” Johnson said. Through the help of her childhood church, Church of the Open Door, she found Lotus Village. “I was that person coming in the door homeless in 2007 with nowhere to go.” Now she shares her story to help others know they, too, can make it.

“Our health clinic serves the community. We’re all on that mission to provide health care to the uninsured, the underinsured,” Johnson said. Through a partnership, University of Miami doctors provide services once a week.

Once the expansion is complete, the shelter will open a children’s health center, and offer a monthly men’s health initiative to do screenings,” Johnson said.

“The women kept asking what about my husband, what about my boyfriend, what about my brother?” Johnson said. “So we knew there was a need to get the men’s initiative up and running.”

 

Read more here: https://www.miamitimesonline.com/faith_family/family_news/the-village-is-expanding-in-overtown/article_5d3d527e-4b9c-11e7-ba79-eb29a53660a1.html

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