Last December, Lacherita Alexander was living with her aunt when the aunt’s intoxicated boyfriend pulled out a gun and threatened to kill her. Just 17, Alexander had long suffered from depression and had no safe place to live.
That incident sparked her reconnection with Wraparound Milwaukee, a program that provides mental health services for children with serious emotional, behavioral and mental health needs, and their families. Alexander’s care team helped her get into Lissy’s Place, a transitional home for young women.
Alexander said the warm welcome she got from the Lissy’s Place’s staff raised her hopes that “this might be the place that will bring me out a little more, make me a little happier, keep me from being so depressed.”
Naiyah Secession, another homeless teen, started her life in foster care, was adopted at age 9 and then forced out of her adoptive home at 14.
“I’ve been homeless for about four years, hopping around from friend to friend all throughout high school,” said Secession, who is now 18. In late January, she too found refuge at Lissy’s Place.
“When I first got here, I was excited. I got my own room for the first time and I had a key to it,” Secession said.
After less than six months, Alexander and Secession say they have learned many valuable lessons and skills at Lissy’s Place. No less important to them has been the newfound security and privacy and the outpouring of warmth and support from the staff.
Alexander’s depression, which she believes is rooted in the loss of her mother and grandmother at age 6, is being effectively treated with medication and therapy. Set to receive a GED and food service certification, she is earning money working as a security guard. She is participating in Career Youth Development’s “Focus on my Future” program and enjoys visiting nursing home residents as a CYD volunteer.
Secession just graduated from Assata High School, 3517 W. Courtland Ave., where she enrolled when she was still homeless. She plans to move to Ohio this summer to enter a degree program at the Art Institute of Cincinnati.
Located in a former convent near the Sherman Park neighborhood, Lissy’s Place has 17 single rooms for women ages 18 to 29. Volunteers from Mount Mary University’s interior design classes have decorated the private and common rooms. The building includes a main living room, large formal dining room, spacious kitchen, computer resource room, lounge and recreation area with exercise equipment, craft room with sewing machines and a laundry room.
Talented volunteers with retail and fashion expertise have created a boutique complete with commercial furnishings where attractive donated clothing and accessories are “for sale.” When a resident goes for a job interview, she can choose an outfit from the boutique. Purchases can also be made with points earned for achieving program goals, said Eileen Beard, the home’s life skills specialist.
Residents are referred to Lissy’s Place from a variety of sources, including the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare and other social service agencies, faith-based organizations and short-term homeless shelters. Many have aged out of foster care without the resources to live on their own.
Resident Candice Jones was referred to Lissy’s Place by the Cathedral Center when she was 18 but she wasn’t able to adapt to the structure.
“The rules (at Lissy’s Place) were a little too much. I wanted to (socialize with my friends) and keep my own hours,” Jones said. She had a job and was able to move into a rooming house but she had trouble managing her weekly rent on a bi-weekly pay schedule and became homeless again. In April, she returned to Lissy’s Place.
The women are required to create personal goals plans and follow a highly structured program designed to teach them the skills and habits they will need to live successfully on their own. They are taught to cook, clean, sew, care for a house, manage personal finances and apply for jobs, among other things.
Residents are required to spend at least 30 hours each week actively working toward their goals. They must get a job or enroll in job training within 60 days of arrival; attend weekly meetings and workshops; contribute part of their income to living expenses; prepare their own meals and do household chores.
Lissy’s Place is one of five programs of My Home, Your Home, a non-profit founded in 1989 by Irma and Aubrey Walker to improve the foster care system. The Walkers served as foster parents to 15 children, in addition to their own six children.