Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, right, talks with those interested in supporting construction of the Emma Threat house in Gary.
(Jim Karczewski / Post-Tribune)
Elected officials and a dozen others toured Emma's House, a planned homeless shelter for single women, located at 616 Maryland in Gary on Monday.
They pledged their support to help keep the renovation project on track with the hope of opening in 2017.
State Reps. Charlie Brown (D-Gary) and Linda Lawson (D-Hammond) — along with Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Kellie J. Bittorf, executive director of Lake County Community Corrections — stood inside the bare bones of the building and listened to Pastor Michael Pirtle of the City of Refuge Christian Church discuss the investment his congregation has made in the neighborhood.
"For the last two years, we have put our personal funds into this," Pirtle said. He estimates that congregants invested about $50,000 and their own time and labor on the weekends into the first phase of renovation of the two-story home. "This is humbling to have your continued support in this endeavor. Hopefully by spring we will be able to open this place."
"We partner with the church," Bittorf said. "They assist our women when they need help with re-entry (to the community). This will be a great resource for women who are without a home."
According to Bittorf, the house was donated to the City Refuge Christian Church by the family of Emma Threatt for this purpose. Her son, Roderick Threatt, is a custody supervisor at Lake County Community Corrections.
Lawson said she learned about the planned facility from Bittorf, "These women who get out of jail and have nowhere to go, they have two options. They can lay on their back in a parking lot or sell drugs. Imagine (with Emma's House) we can give them safe refuge. I will do whatever I can. This means a great deal to me."
Freeman-Wilson thanked everyone for coming from "all over to invest and support a project that is sorely needed. This is a great opportunity. We have state reps, the school board, community corrections and the faith community — and to have labor at the table. I want to pledge city support. We need to roll up our sleeves."
It will be no small task to complete the structure. For starters, it needs everything from insulation and floors to drywall and drywall screws, kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, cabinetry and a hot water tank and more.
"I'm going to go back to my group and see what we can do to help," said Randy Palmateer, business manager for the Northwestern Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council. "Our council gives back. We just did a roof, masonry work and carpentry at Haven House. I had 20 guys out there. This is bigger. They need labor and materials. I'll talk to my union contractors. I'll also put on my tool belt."
Once completed, Emma's House will have room for 12 residents in six bedrooms, according to Burgess Peoples, volunteer director of operations for Emma's House and CEO for Changing Lives and Changing Patterns.
"The women we serve do not have to have children or a domestic violence situation," said Peoples. "The women will come from every walk of life—veterans, Lake County Corrections. They may have lost their jobs. We want to give them a safe haven to get over being homeless."
The plan for the shelter will include assisting the residents with financial literacy, computer training, education and access to partner agencies for help with addiction and other healthcare as needed.
Nancy Coltun Webster is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.