- Faith & Family
Since opening its doors six years ago, Overtown’s Lotus House, an innovative shelter for the homeless, has transformed the lives of over 750 women and children. What started as a once-vacant apartment house purchased by the program’s founder, Constance Collins, 53, has since expanded to a community of brightly-colored buildings, a health clinic, verdant gardens and beds for over 110 women and their children. Collins says with only 15 percent of their funds coming from the government, there was always the fear that grants, fundraisers and private donations might one day be insufficient to keep the doors of the shelter open.
But with the recent $20 million pledge from developer Martin Z. Margulies [Collins’ former husband], she knows that Lotus House will survive for “generations to come.”
“It’s impossible to take credit for the cumulative efforts and creativity of so many volunteers who have stepped forward over the years,” she said. “I didn’t have a grand vision when we opened our doors — it was a step-by-step, day-by-day process. Of course we had guiding principles — to create a holistic resource center and shelter with wrap around services, counseling, health care and enrichment activities — but we still had to figure out some things as we went along.”
Collins and her staff have instituted things like yoga, art and music — all of which she calls “alternative pathways to healing.”
There is no age limit for the women who become “guests” of Lotus House — their ages have ranged from 18 to 80. And of approximately 175 children who have called the shelter their home, 74 were born there.
Challenges are many for homeless women
“Our focus is to assist women who have highly-specialized needs,” Collins added. “Those needs are due to their age, mental health issues, being pregnant and homeless, or because they face severe health challenges like cancer. What we want to ensure is that they have a safe place to live and to grow. This is their sanctuary. At the same time, we work towards securing permanent housing for them within one year or to reunify them with their family.”
As a testament of the family atmosphere and the appreciation of the services that are provided, almost all of the 17 full-time staff members and the majority of volunteers were once “guests” of the shelter.
“These women are living examples of the the kind of empowerment that they gain by participating in our programs,” Collins said.
As for the recent pledge made by Margulies, she said, “the money he has promised in his will will make sure that Lotus House remains a resource for women and children in the Overtown community for many years to come. But that does not minimize our current financial challenges that we have as it relates to our operations. However, it does guarantee that the sacrifices that so many have made here and what we have built so far will be here for all who need it in the future.”
By D. Kevin McNeir