It's the climb


Street Village offers a sense of community, particularly for those who have been missing that.

“It’s something we all crave and need,” Allen said.

Walking the halls of N Street Village, women greet one another heartily and by name. Throughout the halls, clients’ art hangs on the walls.

This past summer, interns Annabel Simpson and Devon Fore helped the women of N Street Village create a collage titled “It’s the Climb.” The work depicts mountains interspersed with stars and clouds. Written on the stars and clouds are goals and affirmations.

To keep my sobriety.
Become a mom.
Go to law school.
Graduate college.

Anything is possible, if only you believe.
There are no more clouds.

“The inspiration for me is recognizing the resilience of the women here,” said Devon, a peace building and development major at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

“Some women think they aren’t creative,” said staff community organizer Sharon Hart, in a tone that expresses her disagreement with the sentiment. Referred to as the “heart of the village,” Hart has been on staff at N Street for 27 years. She oversees arts programs. The fruits of her labors can be seen everywhere.

A colorful cardboard butterfly hangs on the wall of Allen’s office. It symbolizes new beginnings.

N Street’s own beginnings can be found at Luther Place Memorial Church, across the street. Forty-three years ago, members of the church helped offer a place for homeless people to lay their heads at night – a series of mats on a floor.  Now, more than 200 women each night have a safe place to sleep.

Luther Place still serves as a night shelter and maintains a close relationship. Once a week, Rev. Karen Brau, pastor at Luther Place, leads the N Street Choir in song.

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong…” they sing loudly.

The choir recently performed at the swearing in of Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, or as anyone in the position is informally known, the drug czar.

Like many of the women at N Street Village, Botticelli himself once struggled with drug abuse. According to an April New York Times article, his goal is recovery, not punishment.

“Locking people up for minor drug offenses, and especially people with substance-use disorders, is not the answer,” the Times article quotes him as saying. “It’s cruel. It’s costly. And it doesn’t make the public any safer.”

N Street Village also cottons to this particular hands, not handcuffs, philosophy. Stuart Allen tells of a client who was sober for nine years, then relapsed. She began the climb back up the proverbial mountain, and tumbled down again.

“People are always looking for the success stories, “ Allen said. “But this is why we’re doing this. Women are going to move on, and N Street village is always going to be there. When (a relapse) happens, N Street village is always going to be there. That was a day I was like, ‘thank goodness we’re here.”