Healing a Broken Spirit


Gisele knew N Street Village’s doors were open to her.

She had come here before, in 1991, homeless and drug addicted. More than 20 years later, the demons got the better of her again.

“I came here not having anything except a broken spirit,” she said.

Since 1972, N Street Village has been serving DC-area women affected by homelessness. From a drop-in day center with activities, food and access to laundry, to recovery programs and permanent supportive housing, N Street Village serves nearly 1,400 homeless and low-income women each year, according to the organization’s website.

“N Street Village really is a toolkit,” said chief development officer Stuart Elizabeth Allen.  “Each woman who comes here every day uses the tools to rebuild her life.”

Sharon Hart, community organizer; Gisele C.; Stuart Allen, chief development officer 

Sharon Hart, community organizer; Gisele C.; Stuart Allen, chief development officer 

The first goal, she said, is to establish a sense of trust. Despite the services available, some women might not be ready to ask for more than a meal and a place to sit quietly at first. Integration can be gradual: A meal, a conversation, a yoga class or art session at Bethany Women’s Center, N Street’s drop-in day program. Then, if needed, entry into addiction recovery, mental and physical health services at N Street’s Wellness Center, and moving toward permanent supportive housing, and independent living.

“For some women,” Allen said, “this is home. Their highest level of self-sufficiency is going to be where they need this wrap-around service. And that’s okay.”

When she re-entered N Street Village in 2013, Gisele spent two months moving between a shelter and the day program. She eventually began a substance abuse program.

Now, she said, she tries to set an example for ladies who are new to the program. “The sky’s the limit for Gisele,” she said. “This is a place I can rebuild myself and try to live my dreams.”

Dreams like staying healthy, going back to school to become a substance abuse counselor, and helping her 29-year-old son build his life.

“There were periods in his life when I was just missing,” she said, “but I don’t believe in throwing in the towel.”

The biggest hurdle to overcome, she said, has been forgiving herself. (Next)