Her mind ablaze, White decided if she saw a bus coming first, she would get on it.
The bus came. Three buses, in fact. When White told the first Metrobus driver she desperately needed to get to “a program” — a place where she could find help — he outlined which buses she should take in succession to reach a charity across town called So Others Might Eat.
I met White in a rowhouse on North Capitol Street NW called Mary Claire House, a transitional housing program run by SOME. Next door is Jordan House, where White arrived on that October day a year ago. It is home to a 14-day program for people in the midst of a mental health crisis.
“Jordan is a voluntary program,” program director Emily Sullivan said. “So everybody at Jordan House wants to be at Jordan House and wants to try a community alternative, rather than be in a hospital.”
Most Jordan House clients are experiencing depression. Some are gripped by mania. Some, like White, want to harm themselves. Others confess to a fear they may harm others. Some are addicted to drugs. Some are homeless.
There is a psychiatrist and a registered nurse on the staff, but most of a client’s interactions are with a crisis counselor such as Eric Simpson Sr., who works two 24-hour shifts a week.
“Our basic style of working with individuals is being with and doing with,” said Simpson. “You typically find me with residents, watching television, playing chess with the residents, playing video games, playing music, the whole gamut.”
Poverty and homelessness often exacerbate mental health issues. Jordan House can help.
“When you have a place where you can stay and get a warm meal every night, that tends to help the symptoms subside a little bit,” Simpson said. “As time goes on, and as the people get a chance to integrate with a new community, you find that they’re more willing to open up than in previous times.”
As crisis counselors build a rapport with clients, they can delve into what brought them to the brink and what treatment might help them.
White said she started abusing drugs when she was a teenager, after a male relative introduced her to crack. She was addicted for 32 years. After finding stability in Jordan House, she moved into Mary Claire House. That’s where she turned 50.
The days leading up to it were frightening. How could she face the first adult birthday she would experience without being high?
“I didn’t know what to do or even how to celebrate the milestone of 50,” White said. “I was so scared. There was so much anxiety about not knowing how to do a clean and sober birthday.”
Her 50th involved lemonade and cupcakes, made by Simpson.
“I’m just going to keep moving forward, to become productive in society,” she said. “I just want to do something positive.”
White thought she knew how her story would end.
“I already had my life mapped out,” she told me. “I was an addict. That’s all I was going to do. That’s all I was going to ever be. And that’s how I was going to die.”
It was a month ago that I visited Mary Claire House and met Rhonda White. This week I called to see how she’s doing. She told me she was about to move into the Conway Center, a SOME building that has apartments, employment training and a health clinic. It’s across the street from the Benning Road Metro station, where she faced her fateful choice.
“The same place I was going to end my life is where I’m going to begin my life,” she said.
You can help
So Others Might Eat is a partner in The Washington Post’s annual Helping Hand fundraising campaign. By donating to SOME you can be part of the support system that helps people such as Rhonda White. To make an online contribution visit posthelpinghand.com and click “Donate.”
To give to SOME the old-fashioned way, make a check payable to “So Others Might Eat” and send it to SOME, Attn: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.