Richland family back on their feet

Jamie Wilkinson of Richland has been to the very bottom.

She used meth for 13 years. She was homeless. She lost custody of her daughter. She got arrested and has a criminal record, including a felony.

But now, Wilkinson said she is working her way up, with the help and support of Elijah Family Homes' transitional housing program.

It's a program that has been changing and expanding in the past year as the nonprofit shifts from a rent subsidy program to one in which the nonprofit owns the rentals, said Richard Nordgren, the nonprofit's executive director.

Wilkinson, 31, and her 6-year-old daughter, Katelin Walker, are one of the families recently accepted into the program.

Wilkinson said the timing of support from Elijah Family Homes was perfect. She was accepted in March after a year on its waiting list.

Without its support, Wilkinson said now would be the time when she would run the risk of relapsing. She's finished all the requirements of other programs she participated in during recovery, including regaining custody of Katelin.

Elijah Family Homes started about six years ago as a ministry of Christ the King Catholic Church in Richland to offer housing to low-income families that have been turned down by public housing. It became a separate nonprofit about four years ago.

It provides support services and sets its rents on an income-based sliding scale.

Tenants with a history of drug abuse must be in or have completed a recovery program and be clean for a year, and must agree to undergo random drug tests to confirm they are clean.

Wilkinson is one of three families that receive a rent subsidy and rent a home from a landlord.

The nonprofit's seven other families all rent units that Elijah Family Homes owns. They include one home and three duplexes, Nordgren said.

Four of the duplex units and the house became ready to occupy only this year, Nordgren said. The units have all been rehabilitated, with everything from new appliances to new paint.

Clients still will pay rent, which will help pay the expenses of operating the program, he said.

It's a model that Nordgren feels will work well for the clients, who have a good quality home to live in where they can bear some responsibility, such as taking care of the lawn.

Ellen Kathren, program administrator, said the agency has made the program and support more intense.

The original intent, to provide a roof over families' heads, has transformed into more of a wrap-around deal, Nordgren said, with the goal of having families graduate from the program and be able to support themselves and their families without need of assistance.

That means having relapse prevention services and help with planning, Kathren said.

Wilkinson said the nonprofit's help is more than the rent subsidy.

"It keeps me accountable," she said. "I'm still in recovery."

Wilkinson, who has been clean for 26 months, said she tried treatment three different times and each time relapsed.

This time, she said she looked at her life and decided she wanted something different. So she started completing the tasks that Child Protective Services required and got into outpatient treatment.

Wilkinson, who grew up in Moses Lake, now works part time at a Kennewick car wash for 25 to 35 hours a week. She also takes classes online from Columbia Basin College with the goal of earning an associates degree in human services and chemical dependency. She said she hopes to become a counselor and help others who are recovering addicts.

She has six classes left, which likely will take a year, she said.

Wilkinson said she still has to fight cravings, especially for alcohol. The support from the nonprofit helps her resist that.

Wilkinson said recovering addicts need encouragement and belief.

Each family has a mentor, and Wilkinson said it helps her to have someone who, for example, brought her a cake on Mothers Day. And the Christian basis of the nonprofit helps because Wilkinson said that's what her recovery is based on.

Katelin, a first-grader at Jefferson Elementary School, in Richland, helps too, Wilkinson said. Bedtime is 8:30 p.m., which means both are home for the night.

There still are six families on the agency's waiting list, with five new families added into the program in the past six months.

No one else is doing what Elijah Family Homes is to help recovering addicts, Kathren said. There are more families that need the services than the group can help. Most involved in the nonprofit are volunteers, with only two part-time paid employees.

With state cuts, the nonprofit has been getting more calls for help that it can't meet, she said.

Nordgren said the federal budget could influence future capital projects, since three of the duplexes have been purchased using federal dollars.

But for now, the nonprofit has two more units to look forward to this fall, Nordgren said. The 12 families he hopes to serve then will be the most the nonprofit has helped at once.

Elijah Family Homes will hold its third annual fundraiser from 4 to 7 p.m. June 26 from 4 to 7 p.m. at St. Joseph's Dillon Hall, 520 S. Garfield St., Kennewick. The Dara Quinn Project will play, and there will be a chicken and ribs barbecue dinner and a silent auction. To donate items or to purchase the $25 tickets, call Elijah Family Homes at 735-6610.