Mission's transitional housing helps needy

PASCO -- Constance Harris says her prayers have been answered. The former drug addict is one of the first to start the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission's new transitional housing program, called Seasons.

Seasons has not only given her a roof over her head. Harris also credits the program with helping her regain the custody of her three daughters, Aaliyah, 7, Mercedes, 8, and Cheyanne Jones, 9.

"Having my kids means the world to me," she said.

The mission purchased two Kennewick apartment buildings in January for its new transitional housing program. The first residents moved in during June.

Five of the eight two-bedroom units now have families or single men living in them.

The transitional housing program is still in its infancy, said Andrew Porter, the mission's assistant executive director.

When the mission purchased the apartment complex, the units were full. The mission gave those residents time to find a new place and all but one has moved, he said.

Some of the transitional housing clients come from the mission's 13-month Bible-based New Life Recovery Program for men and women. Porter said the transitional housing soon will be full because the nonprofit has men who are in the New Life program who will be graduating in November and entering Seasons.

The issues that Harris and others are dealing with aren't ones that can be resolved in one week, a month or six months, said Donald Porter, mission executive director. They need support for years to get to the point where they can succeed on their own.

Harris, 29, moved into her two-bedroom apartment in August.

In addition to caring for her children, she is taking classes at Pasco's Columbia Basin College to get her GED and works part time at Subway in Pasco. She is part of the worship team for Victory Outreach of the Tri-Cities and is the church's coordinator for aid to other counties.

She's come a long way from where she was a little more than two years ago.

Harris said she started using crack at 17 and worked as a prostitute in Yakima.

And that's when her wake up call came.

She was walking First Street in Yakima one day when her son, Kent Jones Jr., now age 11, passed by with one of her friends and saw her.

"I started crying," Harris recalls. That was Sept. 16, 2008.

She said checked herself into a drug treatment program at Casita Del Rio in Kennewick, which is operated by Triumph Treatment Services of Yakima.

While she was there, Harris met Pastor James Negron of Victory Outreach of the Tri-Cities, who came to lead Bible studies. Harris said she decided to give her life to Jesus and become a Christian.

Harris went to a Victory Outreach recovery home in Seattle for a six-month program. After she returned, she lived with Negron's family.

Harris said she qualified for public housing assistance, but she couldn't find a place to rent with her criminal record, which includes felonies such as forgery and fraud.

Then, a member of her church suggested she ask the mission for help. That's when she found out about Seasons.

The transitional housing program helps people who want to make changes in their lives and just need the support and time to do it, Andrew Porter said.

At the end of the program, clients should be self-sufficient, contributing members of society, he said.

Those in the transitional housing program pay the amount of rent and utility bills that they can afford, Andrew Porter said. And they are required to save at least 10 percent of their income so that when they leave the program, they'll have some savings.

The residents also are required to stay clean, he said. And the mission encourages its clients to pay back debts, including back child support.

Seasons residents can access all of the mission's services, including food, clothing and furniture donations, Andrew Porter said.

Harris said she isn't sure where she now would be without the mission's transitional housing program, but she knows she wouldn't have her daughters with her.

All three lived with their father in Yakima, but when he was arrested in September, Harris said she got the chance to go get them. That wouldn't have been an option if she didn't have an apartment.

Kent still is living in Yakima with his father. Harris said she hopes he'll want to come to live with her soon.

Ultimately, Harris said her dream is to open a recovery home for women in the Tri-Cities similar to the Victory Outreach home in Seattle.

"I want to share that God changed me," she said. Because, Harris said, if she can change, so can others.