Richland family has a home for the holidays

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldDecember 24, 2012 

RICHLAND -- Michell Owens of Richland is looking forward to spending Christmas with her 3-year-old son Kayden.

They've decorated a Christmas tree with colorful candy canes and for days Kayden has been asking if it's time to open presents.

Sharing Christmas with her son was a goal Owens, 37, made for herself last year, before she went from being homeless to being accepted into Elijah Family Homes' transitional housing program.

The nonprofit is seeing results just seven years after it started as a ministry of Richland's Christ the King Catholic Church to offer housing to low-income families who don't qualify for public housing.

Tenants with a history of drug abuse must be in treatment or have completed a recovery program and been clean for a year. They also must agree to undergo random drug tests.

Despite the successes, donations and grants are down, said Ellen Kathren, the nonprofit's program administrator.

While the agency has cut employees and is moving away from providing rent assistance in favor of using the nine rental units it owns, the nonprofit still needs community help to make sure about 12 families can continue to get support and services needed to reach self sufficiency, she said.

Elijah Family Homes, which gained nonprofit status five years ago, still needs to raise $10,000 -- enough to support two families for a year, Kathren said.

That will help families like Dina and Tim Horton of Richland and their sons, Ethan, 3, and Nathan, 2.

Ethan's speech patterns have improved noticeably in the year his mother has been able to take him regularly to the Children's Developmental Center. He used to leave the n's off words, making it hard for people to understand him.

It was Dina Horton's Elijah program mentor who regularly drove them to Ethan's classes.

Horton, 28, said it's that kind of support and structure that has helped her better her life.

"I had a lot of anxiety, trying to be a mother and a wife, and my sobriety, that was stressful," she said.

As part of the program, she's gained someone to talk to about her frustrations, as well as developing useful skills to help with everything from parenting to organizing. She's a stay-at-home mom while her husband works at a pipe company.

"Without Elijah Family Homes, we would be working just as hard and getting half as far," said Tim Horton, 31.

The couple met while both were in recovery. Each made the decision to get clean and sober and to change their lives after serving time in prison -- Tim Horton for theft of a vehicle and Dina Horton for selling drugs. Both struggled with addictions, including to meth.

Now, he's been clean and sober for almost 50 months. His wife's been clean for almost three years.

"I'm not scared anymore," Dina Horton said. "I can be honest with myself and others around me. I have such a good life now."

The Elijah program has taught the couple how to budget and pay on their debts. They're also setting aside a little money each paycheck, with the goal of saving $2,400 before they graduate from the housing program in about two years.

Tim Horton hopes they eventually will buy their own home. His wife dreams of sending their sons to college.

Owens shares that dream for her son Kayden. She recently opened a savings account toward that goal.

A year ago, she and Kayden were homeless. She'd gotten behind on paying her fines on driving-related tickets and was too ill to be on a work crew. She ended up in jail for Christmas.

But Owens has been clean from meth and cocaine for four years and remembers falling to her knees, crying and praying after a spot opened in the Elijah Family Homes program.

She was accepted about eight months ago and already she feels like she's gained a family.

Those involved in the program have been generous and are always there for support, she said. They check on her, and someone even came and raked her leaves when she needed the help.

She's also regained a relationship with two older sons, both 18, who live in a long-term foster care home in Pasco. Having them call or visit each day and hearing them say they are proud of her means so much, she said.

"Every day I wake up, I am so thankful," Owens said. "I am so thankful that God gave me the strength to be clean."

She said she's focused on making sure legal matters are taken care of, including getting back her driver's license. She's also working with her case manager on her anxiety issues. That's part of her efforts to find a job.

Above all, Owens wants to be a better parent for her kids, especially Kayden.

"That's what keeps me going, my son," she said.

For more information on Elijah Family Homes, call 943-6610 or send donations to Elijah Family Homes, P.O. Box 3027, Richland, WA 99354.

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