Dana Walter-Silva used an appropriately horticultural metaphor when describing Green House, the new initiative she’s involved with at N Street Village, a District charity that helps women who are experiencing homelessness.
At Green House, Walter-Silva said, she’ll be like a “starter plant before you put it in the ground, a little seedling. I’m still fresh and new in all of this.”
And she’s ready to grow.
Walter-Silva, 47, came to N Street Village after a five-month stint in prison, the result of a substance abuse problem she’d struggled with for years. “I didn’t have anywhere to go,” she said. “All I knew was what I knew: the past and the people who helped me get to prison.”
She’d helped herself, too, and she’s candid about that. She wanted a change and she found it N Street Village.
The nonprofit, a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand, offers multiple programs, from a day center where women can get off the street to permanent supportive housing. From its earliest days back in the 1980s, the Village’s leaders have recognized that the traumas its clients have experienced often include addiction.
“Trauma and substance abuse are both causal and effect factors around homelessness,” said Schroeder Stribling, the CEO at N Street Village.
Abusing drugs and alcohol can make people more likely to become homeless, she said, and being homeless can increase the likelihood that they will fall into substance abuse.
Green House is an expansion of N Street Village’s existing addiction recovery programs. It uses the last bit of money from a 2016 $1 million grant from the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and aims to harness the energy of women who are making progress in their recovery.
It launched recently with five women, including Walter-Silva, who live in an apartment suite rented from another charity, Samaritan Inns.
“You abide by the rules here,” Walter-Silva said. “You have to stay clean. You have to be involved. This is not a flophouse. This is not a squatters’ nest. This is something you have to show dedication to. And you have to apply yourself.”
The women are required to attend regular AA or NA meetings, along with other counseling sessions. They must put 50 percent of any income into escrow. There are random drug tests.
But the group is tolerant. Relapse is a part of recovery, they say. And Green House is designed to be supportive, so if a member stumbles, it’s up to the other members to decide what comes next.
“The gamble is, when it works it’s remarkable,” Stribling said. “The group itself becomes the change agent. It’s the women who, through the bonds they form, support each other to make progress and stay in recovery.”
As the women make progress, they reach back to help others.
Evelene Duhart is a recovery support specialist at N Street Village who is working with the women of Green House. She knows what they’re going through. She went through it herself and has been clean for 17 years.
“Recovery can be hard,” Duhart said. “But I don’t think it’s as hard as the work that they put into trying to maintain that false persona while out there using. Everything that they did while they were using was what they needed to do in order to survive.”
That was hard on the body and it was hard on the soul. At Green House, both will heal.
And that name: Green House? It wasn’t inspired by the glassy buildings where fragile seedlings grow. It comes from a real person, Evelyn Green.
Green was homeless and addicted to drugs for 23 years. Then she found N Street Village. Green has been clean since 1991 and today she is the manager of day services at N Street Village’s Bethany Women’s Center — and an inspiration to women like Walter-Silva.
Said Stribling: “People look at Evelyn Green and say, ‘I want what she’s having.’”
At Green House, sisters are doing it for themselves: supporting each other as they turn their lives around. You can be a part of their transformation.
The Washington Post is encouraging readers to donate to our Helping Hand charity partners, including N Street Village. To give, visit posthelpinghand.com. To donate by mail, make a check payable to N Street Village and send it to N Street Village, Attn: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.