There’s no place like home

Bridget Alexander

Photo By Larry Dalton

For many of us, our teen years were filled with feelings of inadequacy and questions about sexuality. Most of us knew teens who suffered from depression, eating disorders and drug addictions. Some of us were those teens. We grew up in homes with parents who couldn’t begin to understand the challenges that we faced on a daily basis. And guess what? Today’s teens are dealing with the same issues. That said, it’s not surprising that a lot of kids lose their way during their teen years. It’s even less surprising when the teens are homeless and have children of their own. So, where do these homeless teen parents turn for help? If they’re living in Sacramento, they call Bridget Alexander, co-founder of Tubman House, a transitional-living program that provides parenting youths with a real home. She can be reached at (916) 372-6272.

Where were you working before Tubman House?

I was working at an alternative school where we worked with youth in crisis. There were a lot of young mothers and young fathers and a lot of kids struggling with drugs and alcoholism at a pretty young age. … We’d get people to graduation, and it would be such a proud moment. And then, we’d run into them later, and things had really gone downhill. … I mean, even after we were knocking ourselves dead—and it was such a loving and compassionate school—we were still losing so many people. For five hours a day, we could get them believing in themselves, but then they’d go right back out and be pushed right back down. We realized that we wanted to do something really intensive and hands-on and residential.

Out of that came Tubman House?

Yep, I was working in Woodland, and the other director, Blithe, was working at Mustard Seed School, which is a school for homeless kids that’s associated with Loaves & Fishes. We just realized that you have to do something pretty radical to break that cycle.

Tell us about Tubman House.

Right now, we have two houses. And, altogether, we can house seven adults and their children. Anyway, first of all, it’s a home—it’s not a shelter—and it’s going to be their home for a year-and-a-half.

This program is called a “residential school,” right? What are the residents learning?

When we first opened, we had written into our original plan that everybody must take one college class before they leave. That’s because we wanted to demystify college. Well, what happened is that everybody completely enjoyed college and saw that it’s a great thing. So, because of that, it’s kind of changed us more into a college support.

Added on to that, we have our service-learning classes. Also, each person is planning a project. We’ve had people read to the blind and lead crafts for Alzheimer’s patients. Some people have volunteered at Special Olympics-type events. It’s about beginning to understand that you’re part of a community and that you have a lot to give.

The next step, after that, is where they actually start leading projects. These projects are extensive. They usually take months to plan, and they’re going to involve a whole array of leadership skills.

Give us an example of a project.

Well, we’re doing some community gardens in Oak Park on a vacant lot that, right now, has a lot of hypodermic needles and that kind of thing. We’re doing the cleanup. Then, we’re going to clear it and put in the community gardens.

What do the residents get out of these projects?

Well, someone who saw themselves as a liability to their community has now become an asset. That’s No. 1. The second thing is the whole process of seeing something through from beginning to end. It’s something that a lot of our residents haven’t experienced. Also, they’re figuring out that to get from here to there, they’re not going to be able to do it alone.

What’s the process like for selecting residents?

First come, first served. We get calls everyday from young parents who are in bad situations and need to come in—every single day. The worst part of my job is to call those people and let them know that we’ve got a waiting list and that we’ll always have a waiting list.

How can people in the community help?

What we need are employers who are willing to hire someone who has never had a job. … We need landlords who are going to give someone a chance. … We need people who help people heal, like artists and counselors. We need people to share the things that help put the spirit back together and help keep it going.