Abell Salutes: Project Fresh Start

November 2006 / Salutes / Education

For providing the key to a free home, as a key to a new life.

Kendrea Savoy and her two children were living with her mother in her mother’s house on Streeper Street, when her mother died. Kendrea found that she herself was not able to keep up the mortgage payments on the house. The bank foreclosed, and she lost the house, and so mother and children found themselves with no place to live. Desperate, out of options, they moved into a homeless shelter on Light Street.

“All residents of the shelter,” Kendrea says, “were provided with a list of social services, including housing. One of the sources on that list was something called Project Fresh Start.” With nothing to lose, Kendrea called and reached the director, Deborah Davis. Today, a few months afterwards, Kendrea and her two children are living in circumstances well beyond their Streeper Street life and the Light Street shelter, in the safe and comfortable Northwood apartments at rent she can afford.

Elrich Smith and his three children were living in a house on Stricker Street, in what turned out to be the dead center of continuing neighborhood violence. “There were gang fights on my doorsteps. I knew I had to move, I could not raise three children there.” Meetings with Project Fresh Start resulted in the family’s finding a new residence, in Dundalk. “I’m very happy here,” Elrich says. “I pay some rent, but not a lot for what we have.”

Alexis Smith was living in Glen Burnie when with her two children, when through circumstances, she lost her house to foreclosure, and she and her two children found themselves homeless. They were offered temporary shelter in a nearby church. Then Alexis contacted Project Fresh Start and the agency worked to get her and her children in what she calls “a beautiful apartment” in Woodlawn, at greatly reduced rent.

Ms. Kendrea Savoy, Ms. Alexis Smith, and Mr. Elrich Smith have made the journey from homelessness to comfortable, safe and affordable housing, from homelessness to hope and a fresh start in life. How did it all

In each case relief began with a client call for help—via contact to Catholic Charities’ Project Fresh Start. Project Fresh Start (PFS) itself traces its beginnings to a day in 1992 when Mr. Jack Pechter, an owner of Tri State Real Estate Management Company shared with Linda Miller at the office of Special Populations of the Baltimore City Public School System his concern about the detrimental impact of homelessness on the lives of school children.

Mr. Pechter suggested that he would be willing to donate rental units in safe neighborhoods to those who, in the judgment of PFS, would be best able to benefit from living in them for a year, at a reduced rent, if Ms. Miller would identify qualifying families in need. Catholic Charities was authorized to manage the program, and developed an array of supportive services to assist, initially, five families to become self sufficient, once in their respective apartments. A caseworker was assigned to work with each family, to link them up with GED training, counseling for financial responsibility, job skills training and placement, parenting, and life skills training, substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling.

In the end, the success of PFS lies in the results. Here are some of them:

  • Compared with last year, 53 families were clients of PFS and its affiliates agencies, up from 43;
  • 79 school age children in client families have maintained grade level performance, up from 72;
  • 13 of the children were receiving intervention to deal with their emotional problems, up from 11;
  • 50 out of 58 family heads were in full employment, compared to 43 out of 53;
  • three head-of-households are in programs designed to earn them GEDs, up from one;
  • four are in college programs, up from two;
  • two became home owners, only one did last year;
  • 90 percent of the residents remained clean via random drug testing, up from 85 percent.

The Abell Foundation salutes all the parties that are making Project Fresh Start work: Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Catholic Charities, Associated Black Charities, Baltimore City Public School System, numerous private real estate developers, founders of the project Jack Pechter and Linda Miller, the Kreiger Foundation, the Mayor’s office and the City Council of Baltimore, and the director of Fresh Start, Deborah Davis.

They share the credit for providing so many with a key to a new home as the key to a new life.