Jackie Peoples talks about her history of drug abuse with purpose and with anyone who will listen.
“I was on drugs for 23 years, through 12 shelters,” said Peoples, a longtime Columbia resident.
Peoples said her addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol kept her separated from society and, at times, kept her children from living at home. She’s doing a much better job of taking care of herself these days, learning life skills such as paying bills, knowing how to ask for help and keeping a job. She’s cleaned houses, sold Arbonne skin products and recently started working for Phoenix House, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Columbia that also finds permanent residences for the homeless.
With more than 18 months of being clean from drugs, Peoples said, she is using the lessons she has learned to give something back to her community: a transitional home to help women with children break free of addictions and start new lives.
“I want a community where women and their children can live and get the help they need,” Peoples said, adding that accountability and building life skills are among the necessary tools.
In step with her vision, Peoples has reached out from her First Ward neighborhood to the greater Columbia community and beyond. People from other transitional homes, MU, the Ridgeway and Central City neighborhoods and other parts of Columbia have responded.
After months of planning, Peoples and 11 other board members are refining a business plan and deciding whether to lease, buy or build her dream, the Momma Doris House.
Filling a need
The McCambridge Center has offered counseling services for women with alcohol and drug addictions and their children since 1978. Beth Berhorst, program director, said the center served 750 women and 190 children last year, many of whom came from outside of Columbia.
“Columbia is a big recovery town,” Berhorst said,
She said one reason some people with drug abuse problems are drawn to Columbia might be its location between Missouri’s two major cities. She said Columbia has built a reputation as a place with resources for people in recovery, but there isn’t enough help for everyone.
Berhorst attended the first planning session last fall when Peoples presented her idea of the Momma Doris House and she thinks it would fill a need.
Berhorst said the McCambridge Center is the only treatment center in Columbia that allows parents to bring their children to the treatment program. Women are allowed to live with their children at the center for 30 days, but there is only room for five children at a time.
“Right now, the waiting list is up to eight weeks,” she said, “which really shows that there is a huge need. A lot of times when moms leave treatment, it’s because they miss their kids.”
She said once the house Peoples is planning opens, it would be able to refer women to the McCambridge Center for services such as counseling.
She offered a word of advice to Peoples and her board: “The best way to learn is to just do it,” she said. “Get up and running.”
Peoples believes she passed her problems on to her son, Anthony Edwards, and she believes her behavior contributed to the prison term he is serving.
“I know I led him down that road,” she said, noting that Edwards, 21, is earning his GED behind bars.
Peoples said it was while she was holding Edwards’ infant son, Elijah, almost a year ago that she decided to provide a house to stop the cycle from being passed on to her grandson.
She organized the planning session in October at the Downtown Optimist Club Building. The initial gathering was a diverse group, including an instructor named Daphine Walker-Thosh from Committed Caring Faith Communities, a group out of St. Louis that helps plan transitional housing projects.
Doris Kenny, Peoples’ spiritual adviser and the namesake for the Momma Doris House, was one of the first to show up. She was a social worker in Columbia for many years. She dealt mostly with poverty issues and drug addictions, even trying at one point to get a similar transitional house for women off the ground.
In her home, Kenny has a framed certificate from former President George H. W. Bush thanking her for community service. She and Peoples met within the past year and formed an instant bond.
Peoples’ experiences with addiction has a purpose, Kenny said: So she can help others with similar challenges.
The meeting also included the Rev. Larry McBride of Chosen Generation Ministries, who also describes himself as a former drug addict who has since changed his life. Several other people introduced themselves as recovered or recovering addicts, including Sylvia Johnson and Carnessia Wilson, the secretary of the Momma Doris House.
Rebecca Martinez of MU offered her experience with grant writing. Leland Stepney, the housing coordinator at the Phoenix House, has agreed to serve on the board for the Momma Doris House.
Monte Roulier, a Columbia resident with experience advising community development programs across the county, joined the board after Peoples introduced herself by knocking on his door one Saturday morning.
John McFarland and Pat Kelley of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association are also serving as board members.
“One of the things that is so remarkable about the Momma Doris House is that this is being founded by people who are directly impacted,” Kelley said. “Many of the people on the board have lived through the situation that they are trying to help. To me it is a whole new way of doing things that I hope will become more and more pervasive in our community.”
Setting the rules
The idea behind the Momma Doris House is to provide a community setting for women struggling with addictions as well as for their children. Before the women move in, they would have to sign a contract stating they will uphold the rules, such as keeping communal and personal space clean, cooking dinners, looking for work, paying their own bills and keeping a curfew.
The women would have to develop a personal plan for self-improvement with help from someone who has experienced drug addictions.
In lieu of paying rent, residents would be expected to make payments into a personal savings account so that they would have some financial security after moving out of the transitional home.
The Momma Doris House had its most recent board meeting April 21; there will be another meeting June 23 with a goal of finalizing a business plan.
Thirteen people squeezed into a small room at Henry Jefferson’s house for the April meeting, which began after a prayer led by Doris Kenny. Most of the meeting was spent discussing the business plan and funding sources. Several grants were identified, and the group discussed an offer from the Phoenix House to serve as an umbrella organization.
Peoples said she had to ask people to stop sending in donations until her fledgling organization is ready to accept them.
Supporters of the Momma Doris House would like to find properties that can house six families in distinct units in the north-central part of Columbia with a common space for community activities and shared meals.
One building would be reserved for administration offices and counseling. Several potential properties have been identified, and three different property owners have been contacted. Organizers are also exploring the possibility of building on their own.
The residents would live for a year in a community house with other women and then graduate to a space of their own for three months. The community would still be involved and make sure the women are maintaining their contract.
One problem some women face while in recovering from drug abuse stems from a life of relying on men without learning how to take care of themselves, Peoples said. “My husband took care of me. When he left I didn’t know how to do anything,” she said.
“Once my husband was taken off the streets, I was out here all alone,” Peoples said. “I had never had to do anything. My parents took care of me, and then men took care of me. I’m 43, and I’ve never had to take care of myself.”
Soon after her husband was gone, Peoples said she went through another treatment center. When she got out, she tried to live on her own but realized she wasn’t ready. Unable to pay rent, she moved into an empty room in a home on Noble Court that belongs to Henry Jefferson. She pays a small amount for the space, keeps the house clean and has to stay clean herself.
Jefferson helped her learn to take care of herself. When Peoples wanted a haircut, she asked Jefferson for some money. He said no, which Peoples said was a turning point. If she wanted things, she was going to provide for herself.
She said this experience helped her realize the need to build a sense of confidence and accountability in the women who will live at the transitional house.
“I used to rely on people before, but with no sense of gratitude, and I was using them,” Peoples said. “Now I rely on people for guidance, and I can stand on my own feet. I’m no longer handicapped. Now they teach me, they don’t just provide.”