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Homeless shelter helps women start over

<i>WLOS</i><br/>An Asheville nonprofit is sharing the stories of two residents' transformation from homeless to starting over.
An Asheville nonprofit is sharing the stories of two residents' transformation from homeless to starting over.

By Kimberly King

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — As Asheville leaders continue to try and find solutions to stem the city’s homeless crisis, one local non-profit is having success helping women transition into permanent housing.

Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry’s 10-month-old, 100-bed Transformation Village near Asheville Outlets has been open since March. And 48 women are living there now.

“It’s an honor to be here, because it can be lengthy to get into a program like this” 32-year-old Monica Sellars said.

Sellars, who grew up in Asheville, has struggled with homelessness her entire life, the first time at age 17.

Sellars said a combination of bad decisions, coupled with a difficult home life led her on a spiraling path that included years of addiction and homelesssness in Asheville. She said she’s lived in shelters and for a short time a tent.

Sellars got clean in 2018 but found herself homeless in Marion last July. The housing and holistic program at Transformation Village is something she said she’s never experienced at any shelter she’s lived in.

“We get our own clean places. They offer classes here you can take to eventually support yourself and better educate yourself,” Sellars said. “The classes are for everyone, not just for whoever picks to be in them.”

Sellars, who’s pregnant, said residents are treated equally, which hasn’t been her experience at other shelters. The shelter also has a boutique where women can shop for clothes based on credits received through programs at the shelter.

“It makes you, as a woman, feel better about yourself to have new things,” Sellars said. “You’re allowed to live here for a year. It’s so important because it gives you time to heal and work to get a job.”

Transformation Village structure Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College education and certification programs are offered at Transformation Village, which has a structured four-step program that includes the following:

Stabilization, with all the basic necessities provided Life skills training, with more than 60 volunteer courses to choose from Education and professional training certifications that lead to living wage jobs Reintegration that leads to permanent housing.

ABCCM reports eight of 10 residents leave the village with living wage jobs and permanent housing.

Wendy’s story “I feel extremely blessed,” said Wendy Johnson, 40 who grew up in California.

Johnson has been at the shelter four months, but that’s about to change.

“I also got the greatest Christmas gift of getting my own apartment,” said Johnson, who’s moving to a Candler complex next month.

“It’s absolutely beautiful, and safe, just built for low-income,” Johnson said.

She said the program at Transformation Village has relieved the pressure of not having a safe place to live and sleep.

The structured program that includes education classes is something Sellars and Johnson find important to building confidence and hope.

Johnson said, this past July, after seven years of sobriety, she relapsed and ended up in the ICU.

“I parked my car on the railroad tracks praying that a train would hit me,” Johnson said.

A man stopped to help her and, after getting out of a treatment facility, Johnson was able to move to Transformation Village.

“It’s not just about housing and food. I’ve also done trauma therapy,” Johnson said. “I’ve connected with Vaya Health.”

Johnson is working now, and she’s learned to paint and has her art proudly displayed in her room. And she has also reconnected with her son.

Help for the homeless The Rev. Scott Rogers, executive director of ABCCM, said the nonprofit has been helping people out of the cycle of homelessness for 30 years. Transformation Village for women opened in March with construction costing just more than $12 million.

ABCCM also runs the Veteran’s Restoration Quarters homeless shelter for men. The success of Transformation Village has caught the attention of an Asheville councilwoman, as city leaders continue to consider how to address the city’s crisis.

“We had a wonderful visit by Sage Turner, who is really looking at this seriously from a lot of different angles,” Rogers said. “She was not aware of how comprehensive ABCCM’s services are, and so it was a breath of fresh air to see there is a place that offers really multiple ways to deal with homelessness.”

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