Three nights a week, Georgette Madison walks the streets of Miami and talks to homeless women. She knows where to find them because she was once among them. Madison hands out food, shoes, hygiene packs and encouraging words. Her message is clear: “Come to Lotus Village. It will transform your life, as it did mine.” Madison, 35, checked into the original Lotus House with her 6-year-old daughter in 2013, fleeing domestic violence in her home. Today she is guest services director at the 500-bed Village in Overtown, the largest homeless shelter in the nation dedicated to women and children. She is one of two dozen alumni employed at the Village and living on their own.
We needed a safe place to go,” she said. “I’d heard about Lotus. I’d seen their pink van. I didn’t want to expose my daughter to a shelter for men. And I found out they had a culinary program.”
Lotus provided everything she and daughter Alana Johnson needed, from homemade food to mental health therapy to after-school care to job skills training.
“I wanted structure to restart my life,” she said. “I wanted to work toward the goal of being a better person and giving a better future to my daughter.”
Madison survived a harrowing childhood in Little Haiti.
“My mom was abusing drugs and had to give up her five kids,” she said. “Me and my twin brother were only 3 months old.” The children wound up in foster care, shuttling between different relatives’ homes and then, for several years, on and off the streets.
“Sometimes we lived in motels or we slept in a school, always running from security,” she said. “We were dumpster diving, taking clothes out of collection bins. I remember being hungry and all we had to eat was baby food. We were constantly on the move.”
An older sister managed to keep the siblings together until their mother got clean and regained custody. Life was stable until eight years ago, when she found herself at the threshold of Lotus House.
“It’s a horrible, sickening feeling when you have no other options, when you’ve hit bottom and can’t see a way out,” she said. “I’m connected to these women and children on the street because I’m connected to my past. That’s why I have a lot of passion for outreach.
“There are so many wrong assumptions about people experiencing homelessness — that they choose to be homeless or it’s their fault. They are overlooked or looked down upon. Everybody has a story. I want to know their stories.”
Like Madison, Sharonee Delevante escaped a domestic violence trap. She arrived at Lotus Village nearly eight months pregnant.
“I had contractions in my room, and after I gave birth, Lotus Village provided a crib, bottles, clothing, parenting classes, even therapy because my baby was premature,” she said.
When she was hired months later as the Village operations director, she placed her son, Jonathan Jackson Jr., in the Village daycare center. He’s now 3 years old, they’re living in Little Havana and she hopes when the new Children’s Village is up and running that he will be able to attend after-school programs there.
“To be a homeless child is so damaging. It’s worse for them than the moms,” Delevante said. “The Children’s Village is needed to focus on kids’ health and education.”
Delevante, 34, had stayed at other homeless shelters before Jonathan was born. She chose Lotus — which has an 80 percent success rate for thousands of alumni who have exited the shelter system — for its stellar reputation.
“There’s no comparison,” she said. “I wanted to turn things around and do better. I’ve worked hard. I love my job and our team. We’re making a difference.”
Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article260813757.html#storylink=cpy