Street Sense Staff

After thirty-five years of providing safety, shelter, food, showers, laundry and hope, Rachael’s Women’s Center will be closing its doors on Sept. 30.

Rachael’s can no longer provide services due to a lack of funding, officials say.
“If we didn’t have to, we wouldn’t [close],” said Michelle Durham, program director.

Rachael’s has primarily served homeless and formerly homeless women, but the organization also supports some homeless men in a street outreach program. These clients will be given referrals to other organizations, such as Bethany’s Women’s Center and Charlie’s Place.

The sudden news of the closing, which was announced Sept. 15, has come as a shock to Rachael’s regulars, including Sheila Cain, who has been getting help from Rachael’s for fifteen years, longer than any other client. Cain uses Rachael’s street address, 1222 11th St NW, as her mailing address. Now, she’s rushing to switch her mailing address to another organization in order to collect her mail, including her social security benefits.

But Cain relies upon Rachael’s for more more than just her mail, and she is far from alone. Over the course of 35 years, Rachael’s has provided services to over 3,000 women. Help ranges from street outreach, meals, showers and case management to supportive and congregate housing for disabled and chronically homeless women.

Cain’s friend Michelle Kelly, who has been at Rachael’s for a decade, memorized an acronym to convey all that Rachael’s has meant to her. By the time she got to C, she was very emotional.
“Calm, helpful, allowing, enjoying, loving, safety…nobody understands how Rachael’s closing feels. It hits home-hard,” Kelly said.

Newcomers to Rachael’s also said they are distraught at the thought of losing this safe haven.
Lequria Edmonds sought out Rachael’s five or six months ago but says the place has already changed her life. She came to Rachael’s after losing her son and found a “whole new set of friends and family.” She says if she didn’t come to Rachael’s, she likely would’ve been dead or in a mental institution.

Though not bound by blood, clients and staff say they are tied almost like a family. During the day, Rachael’s provides women with a variety of activities and classes including yoga, book clubs and Bible study. Case managers at the organization help women identify interests and skills that help them rebuild their lives.

After getting a chance to help out in the kitchen at Rachael’s, Sheila Cain said she was able to attend culinary school and become a cook. Once plagued by addiction, Cain has now been clean for seven years, an accomplishment she said is largely due to Rachael’s constant support. Rachael’s even helped her manage her money throughout her addiction, ensuring that she stayed clean.
When clients need small items, staff often go to the corner drugstore to purchase them with money from their own pockets, the women said.

The deep care the staff provides is returned by clients. As they sat in Rachael’s library on a recent day, Cain, Kelly and Edmonds expressed worry about staff members losing their jobs. What if they have to file for unemployment? What if they can’t find a new job? The selfless inquiries came from a group of women whose own futures are also deeply uncertain. They face the loss of the table where they have enjoyed Thanksgiving dinners and the plans they had to host a baby shower for their friend, who will soon be having a child she plans on naming Dallas. Now, they doubt they will ever meet Dallas.

“If you see us, if you hear us: help us. This is not right. Period,” Cain pleaded.
Kelly nodded and explained, “It’s not like losing a family member, but it’s a different kind of pain, a different kind of loss.”

Agreeing, Cain added: “It’s like burying a whole place-”
“A home,” Edmonds interjected.