Turning a Safe House into a Home

Howard County General Hospital volunteers fix up properties for people fleeing dangerous pasts.

Published in Dome - Community Issue 2017

A little mulch and paint can make a big difference to people living in the safe house operated by HopeWorks, the Howard County nonprofit for victims of sexual and domestic abuse.

That’s why Howard County General Hospital volunteers devote a day each year to repairing and renovating the shelter.

“It provides a dignified environment,” says Paula Del Pozo, assistant residential director for HopeWorks, established in 1978 as Citizens Against Spousal Abuse. “It’s about safety, but it’s also about providing a home.”

Among its support and advocacy services, HopeWorks provides a safe house to people assessed as being in immediate danger, as well as transitional housing for clients who are not yet ready to live independently.

The properties are rented for a nominal fee from Howard County Recreation and Parks, and some are in better shape than others. Hospital volunteers spruce them up for free, saving the nonprofit thousands of dollars a year, says Del Pozo.

The hospital began the annual service day in 2015 as part of Johns Hopkins Medicine’s United Way campaign, says Karen Sterner, special events coordinator for Howard County General Hospital. 

That year, about 15 hospital employees worked on the safe house, mostly weeding, mulching and planting mums. 

In 2016, the group grew to about 30 volunteers, including hospital president Steven Snelgrove and members of the facilities staff. They brought tools and supplies and spent the day painting, power-washing and repairing. They also stocked a basement playroom with bicycles, books and games that had been collected through a toy drive in the hospital lobby, says Sterner.

The 2017 volunteer day, held September 20, included landscaping, painting, power-washing, carpet-cleaning and garage organization of the safe house, plus junk removal in one transition house.

Bedrooms in the safe house have bunk beds, and HopeWorks tries to give each family its own room when possible. But the five-bedroom residence can be crowded and tense as 16 people share common spaces, contend with the traumas of their pasts and wonder about their futures.

On the Howard County General Hospital volunteer day, the residents leave—partly so they’re not recognized and partly so they’re not inconvenienced by the work. They return to a better, brighter home, with more space for children to play.

 “It’s important to us to keep the houses in the best condition we can,” says Del Pozo. “Clients say they feel like they are in a home.”