Elizabeth Williford held her baby against her chest as Father Joseph de Orbegozo, rector of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, blessed her new home. Thanks to the efforts of Jericho Way, the formerly homeless mother has a newly refurbished home to watch her daughter, Ayriah, grow up in.
Jericho Way, a homeless day resource center in Little Rock, gives homeless people in the city tools needed to find a place to live a stable life.
In 2018, Depaul USA, which operates Jericho Way, embarked on a “13 Houses” campaign across the world in several cities, drawing inspiration from St. Vincent de Paul, who served the less fortunate and eventually secured 13 homes to shelter those who needed it most.
The Little Rock program was launched that same year. With Williford moving into her new home — the 12th house in the local program — results look promising. Carol Miles, Jericho Way director, said Jericho Way should cross the finish line.
“With this house, we are moving closer to our 13-house goal,” Miles said. “Our first home is on Heather Lane, and the participant who was placed there is still occupying that home, gainfully employed and doing very well. Our goal is to end homelessness and help individuals reach greater stability. We were recently awarded the contract for the micro village to help the homeless in the city through that as well, so we will be providing 80 units of housing.”
Tenants pay 30 percent of their monthly income in rent and utilities to Jericho Way, which owns the properties and leases them to homeless people, to prepare them for homeownership and financial budgeting. Jericho Way purchased the homes with private donations. Tenants are allowed to stay in the homes as long as they are able to pay rent and utilities.
Miles, who joined Jericho Way in December, said the recent economic downturns and inflation have made construction of homes more expensive, while also increasing the homeless population in central Arkansas.
Jericho Way has started several new initiatives this year to help the most vulnerable.
“Our participants are probably among those in the most difficult or challenging subset. Homelessness, chronically homeless, seriously mentally ill and/or having substance use issues and complicated criminal histories,” she said. “They just need a little bit of a helping hand to get back on track. We have weekly Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings that are facilitated by our partners at the Wolfe Street Center. We also have several of our partner agencies that come in, like Goodwill, to talk about their job training and educational programs.”
Jericho Way also works with medical and educational professionals and counselors to provide homeless populations with resources.
“We help give people homes, but our ultimate goal is to move our participants toward greater stability,” Miles said.
Williford moved in July, shortly after Ayriah’s first birthday.
“I was pregnant with (my daughter). I was a waitress, and I lived in a run-down house. My landlord was a slum lord. We didn’t have air or heat. My daughter was born five weeks early because I developed preeclampsia and had to have an emergency c-section to save us both. But my landlord didn’t care and evicted us,” Williford said through tears, describing how she and her daughter went to Our House. “They recommended us to Jericho Way for this program, and that’s how we got here.”
During the Aug. 9 blessing in the living room, Father de Orbegozo prayed for God’s intercession.
“‘You had no place to lay your head, but in uncomplaining poverty you accepted the hospitality of your friends; grant that through our help people who are homeless may obtain decent housing,’” Father de Orbegozo prayed, before blessing all rooms in the house with holy water, as well as the family in it.
On the front porch, Father de Orbegozo shared the importance of blessing homes.
“A house blessing is about the fact that when someone gets a home, they are getting to receive the kind of love that Jesus received … We are able to treat them like Jesus when we bless it … and provide a place where they can encounter Christ, now at the center of their home … that blessing makes the connection and brings that grace inside.”
As Williford sat on the front porch swing with Ayriah in her lap, she shared her optimism for the future.
“I’m truly blessed that (Jericho Way) has given me this opportunity to be here. I really, really love this house, and it gives us a safe place for (Ayriah) to grow up and for her to have some consistency. Whereas being in the homeless shelter, she's had inconsistency and different things going on,” Williford said. “And while I do understand things go on and things will change, it still gives me the opportunity to build up to being a productive renter and having a renter and landlord relationship and not having to worry about, ‘Am I going to get kicked out because there's something medical going on?’ … I just wanted her to have a home. And now she's got one.”
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