Fifty-year-old Roberta Mitcham has been leaving things behind her whole life.
Fifty-year-old Roberta Mitcham has been leaving things behind her whole life.
Addiction and abusive relationships have repeatedly left her homeless. She would have things in storage and not be able to pay the rent. Sometimes she just had to walk away with the clothes on her back.
When you are on the street, you have no ability to have stuff.
A year ago, Roberta was homeless again. She had been kicked out of rehab and was staying in an emergency homeless shelter in Salina.
But there was one thing she couldn’t stand to lose and that was her daughter Ta’ah, 13.
Ta’ah had been placed in foster care.
“I knew they could take everything from me,” Roberta said, “but when I lost Ta’ah, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had lost everything so many times, but I could not lose my child.”
At Roberta’s dead end, was Mt. Hope Sanctuary of McPherson.
Mt. Hope is a non-profit transitional housing program in McPherson.
All the women in the program are trying to battle their way out of poverty, and almost of all of them are like Roberta and have nowhere else to go.
Mt. Hope opened a home for women in 2007. The house has a capacity for eight to 12 women and has housed as many as 10 children in addition.
Its mission is to help women become self-reliant in their communities, said Candy Lundberg, a co-founder and executive director of Mt. Hope.
Living in the junkyard, eating at the ER
Before Mt. Hope, homelessness was a way of life for Roberta and her daughter.
Roberta had turned to drugs to deal with a series of tragedies in her life, including the death of her sister and father, and the murder of her brother.
Her addiction left her homeless repeatedly.
She had curled up in the hull of old cars in a junkyard for warmth. She had slept in alleys and, when lucky, crashed on an acquaintance’s couch.
“It is the worst feeling,” she said. “It is total loneliness. I asked myself, ‘How did I get myself here?’ ”
She begged for food from friends.
“It’s humiliating, but you don’t care when you’re hungry,” she said.
Sometimes she would sneak into the emergency room and eat cookies, drink coffee and pretend she was waiting for someone. Today, with her short cropped hair and neatly trimmed and painted nails, it is hard to believe getting a good shower was once one of her biggest challenges.
She came to Kansas with her daughter after escaping from an abusive relationship in Missouri.
“I made some bad choices,” she said. “Nevertheless, nobody should have to go through that.”
She came to Mt. Hope from a shelter in Salina with only the clothes on her back.
“It was the most distraught feeling I ever felt,” she said of her experience. “I had nowhere to go. I had no hope. I thought there was nothing for me, but I was then referred to Mt. Hope.”
Welcome home, Roberta
When Roberta arrived at Mt. Hope, there was a sign hanging on her door — “Welcome home, Roberta.”
“That made me feel so special. That meant everything. ‘Welcome home, Roberta,’ ” she said.
Roberta said she finally felt cared for.
Mt. Hope gave her clothes and toiletries to start fresh.
“The staff members went above and beyond to help you,” Roberta said. “They provided everything you needed in life. If you needed something major, they made it appear.”
Mt. Hope’s entire $100,000 annual budget comes from donations and grants.
On a recent tour, Lundberg showed off their treasure room. The room contains donated knickknacks, inspirational posters and small furnishings that the residents at Mt. Hope can earn chances to buy with points earned in the program. The center also takes donations of furniture and household items to get women started in their new lives.
There is no charge to the women who come into the program, but they must agree to sever unhealthy relationships and be drug free.
Mt. Hope programs are tailored for each woman’s needs. The program tries to address the reasons the women ended up homeless, including work, education, money management and relationships. Counseling is offered to the women to help them to build plans to address these issues.
Ducks in a row
Roberta’s top priority was getting her daughter back. She called it getting her “ducks in a row.”
Mt. Hope helped her learn to coordinate the basics in life that most of take for granted.
She had to find and maintain a job, something she had failed to meaningfully do for years because of her drug abuse.
She had to make sure she packed a lunch every day. Learning to nourish herself and her daughter has been important. She often had gone without food and was rail thin when she entered the program. She has gained 60 pounds and now is at a healthy weight.
She came to Mt. Hope with no transportation, so she had to arrange rides to work and all appointments. At first, she walked the several miles from the Mt. Hope, which is near the McPherson Family YMCA, to Krehbiels Meat Market and Deli on the east side of town.
“Mt. Hope helped me get my whole life turned around,” Roberta said. “They gave me a new way to look at life. They gave me tools.”
Although you do not have to be a Christian to be in the Mt. Hope program, the program encourages church attendance and offers opportunities for Bible study.
Roberta had never participated in church before.
“I never knew anything about religion before,” she said. “I knew inside that this what I had to do, and I started writing poetry.”
After eight months in the program, Roberta and her daughter are now living in their own rented home.
One of her biggest dreams was her daughter would have her own room, which she now does.
For a family that had to repeatedly leave everything behind, they are slowing making their house a home.
Roberta has crosses everywhere in her home, but her prize possession is a book.
She displays the book open. On one side is a portrait of Jesus. On the other side is her favorite poem — “Footprints in the Sand.”
Roberta purchased a truck to get back and forth to work. She has been at her job for 10 months, had her daughter back for six months and been out of the Mt. Hope program for three months. The family even got their dogs Molly and Sugar back, who had been boarded by a friend while Roberta was in the Mt. Hope program.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said. “I never thought I could be happy. Everything I asked and prayed for within reason has come true.”
Roberta still has a ways to go. Mt. Hope emphasizes responsibility and facing consequences. For Roberta, this means paying $400 a month to resolve fines. She still worries about making bills, especially having enough money for food. She is trying to set a healthy example for her daughter, and fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive.
Roberta said she will continue to make positive plans, and she has faith that she and her daughter will make it.
“I have to deal with my emotions and face my problems head on,” she said. “I have to rely on my relationship with God. Before I went to Mt. Hope, I didn’t have hope. Now it is not so hard to deal with. It’s not easy, but I don’t feel the need to use.”
Roberta has dream of one day owning her own house and maybe running a greenhouse.
“Roberta’s Country Greenhouse,” she laughed.
She is trying to give back through Mt. Hope and has taken time to visit a rehab facility to encourage others who may be where she has been.
She credits her success to God and Mt. Hope. She continues to write poetry, and one of her poems now graces Mt. Hope’s thank you cards.
A blessing in disguise,
A reason for me to open my eyes.
A smile on my face, a beat in my heart.
A chance to have hope, when I had none.
Mt. Hope is where it has all begun.
It gave me strength, a positive plan,
A relationship with God that I never had.
They took my hand, they showed me the way,
And that is whey I am here today.
I thank Mt. Hope Sanctuary!
I pray to God, forever and ever.