With help from friends and strangers, life is looking more hopeful for a family that has struggled with homelessness.
In late January, as shelter providers and advocates prepared to conduct their eighth annual count of the Washington region's homeless population, John and Faith McHale were staying in separate Laurel church halls that were providing winter shelter for men and women with no place else to go.
In a Jan. 25 Washington Post article about the homeless count, the couple, like others, spoke of how the weakening economy had contributed to their difficulties. They described the scarcity of work for John, a carpenter; of bills going unpaid; of the loss of their rented home. And they spoke of missing their daughter, Kayla, then 16 months old. A family from their church was keeping the toddler while they tried to deal with the crisis.
Many readers responded to their plight. Donny Phillips, who works with the homeless at Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services, conveyed a number of offers of housing, jobs and other assistance to the McHales.
One call came from a Virginia woman, an airline ticket clerk, whose family owned a modest home in Silver Spring. The place had been vacant since the death of her 94-year-old mother in the summer.
The woman, who does not wish to be identified, said that she and her brothers and sisters plan to sell the house someday but that they had decided, as a group, to hold onto it for a while until the real estate market improves. In the meantime, though, the woman said she worried about the house deteriorating as it stood empty.
And she thought of the McHales.
"They'll take care of things. And they'll have a safe place."
Her late mother was the kind of soul, the woman said, who would be willing to take a leap of faith to help another family in need. She would want this.
"She was a good-hearted person," the woman said.
So after some deliberation, the woman from Virginia offered the old family home to the McHales, rent-free in exchange for renovations and repairs. The arrangement has been working well, she said.
John McHale, who recently started a new job installing windows, has been enthusiastically tackling improvements on the home in Silver Spring.
As the McHales get settled, their church friends are helping Kayla make the transition back to life with her parents. On a recent day in the house in Silver Spring, the little girl played with a doll and danced around the dining room.
"She's a smart baby," Faith McHale said proudly.
John McHale watched quietly. He said he is grateful to have been given another chance and a place his family can call home.
"It's definitely a blessing," he said. He added that human kindness has reminded him of something he already believed: "There really is a God."
-- Mary Otto