Elijah Family Homes helps addicts transition to independence

Ronnie Ware of Pasco has a really good reason to stay clean.

Her name is Destiny. The 4-year-old likes to read Tinker Bell books with her dad, watch Care Bear movies and strum a toy guitar.

And when Destiny was taken away from him at birth because she tested positive for meth, Ware, 39, said that gave him all the incentive he needed.

Ware signed up for an intensive outpatient treatment and a 12-step program and spent a year and a half to get back Destiny and his 15-year-old son, Jedadiea Land.

Elijah Family Homes offers the step between recovery to independent living, Ware said.

Not having that opportunity can cause some to go back to their old lifestyle, say program officials.

In just seven years, Elijah Family Homes has gone from housing one family to supporting 11 families such as Ware's because the group now owns nine rental units.

It's success has left it needing more help from the public, including more mentors and help with transportation.

Elijah Family Homes began 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 five years ago, providing support services and setting rents on an income-based sliding scale.

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

The nonprofit's two newest units for its transitional housing program will be ready later this summer. A single-family home was converted back into a duplex with support from a federal Community Development Block Grant through the city of Richland.

It will be the final home the nonprofit opens up to families, at least for now.

Linda Tirico, the nonprofit's executive director, said they are focusing on deepening services so families who graduate are self-sufficient.

And there's a sense of urgency because they can only stay in the transitional housing for up to three years. That isn't a long time for all the changes clients undergo, Tirico said.

"It's only 1,095 days," she said.

The clock is ticking for Amy Dodge. The 31-year-old from Pasco said she doesn't feel ready to graduate in January. She fears she won't be able to find a place to rent because of her two felony convictions and her minimal income from working four days a week at Dairy Queen, she said.

That's something Elijah Family Homes is working with her on, Dodge said.

She and three of her children, Joshua 11, Cody, 6, and Alysa, 5, live in a duplex operated by the nonprofit. Her 14-year-old son, Mark, also visits during the summer.

Dodge couldn't find anything to rent and was living with her parents when she found out about Elijah Family Homes.

"It's really hard when you are trying to get back on your feet," she said. "Elijah Family Homes gave me that chance."

Dodge said she has been clean since November 2006, after using drugs off and on since she was 16. Going back to meth would mean letting down her kids, and Dodge said she couldn't live with that -- especially having fought for two years to get them back.

"I love getting up in the morning and making my kids breakfast," she said.

Dodge said she owes a lot to her family, especially the support of her mom. Last year, she earned her high school equivalency diploma, and she just finished her first quarter at Columbia Basin College. That wouldn't have happened without Elijah Family Homes, she said.

"If I can get as far as I have gotten, the opportunities are endless," she said. "It's given me a second chance in life -- in a lot of ways."

This year, Tirico said Elijah Family Homes has moved four families off the waiting list and into homes.

However, there are four more families waiting, said Ellen Kathren, the nonprofit's program administrator. And a family has to attend recover meetings and the nonprofit's monthly community meeting to get on the list.

So far, four families have graduated from Elijah Family Homes.

The next group, which includes Ware and his daughter Destiny, is set to graduate in February.

Ware said he began using marijuana in fourth grade. By 21, he turned to meth. He reached his lowest point after his eldest son Jonathon, 8, drowned while fishing with a relative in 2000, Ware said.

Ware was living in a fifth-wheel when his family was accepted into the Elijah program.

Now, they live in a duplex.

The low rent helps Ware pay child support, and he found a better job as a kitchen manager at a Richland restaurant, but in October, he became a single dad when Destiny's mother left.

With the support of Kathren and others with the Elijah program, Ware said he's confident he will make it. He's been in recovery for four years. He admitted to a few relapses with alcohol, but he said he recently celebrated two years of being clean.

His goal is to take care of his kids and improve their lives, and to one day own a home.

As for Elijah Family Homes, Tirico said it's getting more difficult to find grants.

It costs up to $8,000 a year per family just to provide housing, not including other services, she said.

Kathren said they continue to add services to help people make the transition, but the two biggest obstacles that clients face are child care and transportation.

On the nonprofit's wish list is a donated van or a shared church van, more mentors to pair with clients and landlords willing to work with their graduates.

"Our clients are getting more services from us and through us than they ever did because we are even more committed at this point to making them self-sufficient," Tirico 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.

* Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com