Twenty-two years ago, Jeanne Tedrow was a mother of young children whose involvement with living her Catholic faith in the community stopped at being a Sunday “pewholder.” “I was a person who sat in the pew and didn’t venture out too much,” Tedrow said. After relocating from Massachusetts to attend a graduate program in public policy at Duke University, Tedrow’s life became centered in the comfortable suburbs of North Raleigh.
Today, Tedrow is chief executive officer and co-founder of Passage Home, a non-profit community development corporation that is helping families transitioning from homelessness and is working to revitalize an impoverished Southeast Raleigh community.
Ironically, Jeanne’s involvement with the poor in Raleigh began when she started her own real estate company. She hoped to do this while home raising her children, giving her the opportunity to help care for her own family. She started showing investment clients around Raleigh and said, “I found a lot of people making a lot of money on properties they wouldn’t want to live in themselves.” As she learned more about this, and became a landlord herself, she became unsure that she could pursue this. She felt she was being called in another direction.
Jeanne bought a property in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and became a landlord for two families. When she went to collect the rent, she frequently was told that the family didn’t have money for rent that month because they had to pay the utility bills. “I slowly came to understand there is a whole group of people who paid the rent one month and the utility bills the next month,” Tedrow said.
She began researching local poverty by talking with people at social service agencies. She also found herself becoming more involved in the lives of her tenants, and saw how having an advocate improved service at the disability office when she went there with a disabled tenant.
One thing led to another, and in 1988 after a conversation with Fr. David McBriar, then pastor of St. Francis, Jeanne helped form a parish committee to start a transitional housing program for families. Not long afterwards, a tornado struck North Raleigh and her family was one of many parish families who lost their houses. Her experience of more than six months living in an apartment in temporary housing only intensified her desire to help people who were homeless get back on track.
Passage Home started out helping two families per year. Today Passage Home assists more than 300 families per year by offering low-rent housing, either in properties owned by Passage Home or in leased properties and by doing other outreach efforts in neighborhoods in south Raleigh.
Passage Home also provides its clients with intensive case management and a variety of services such as job assistance, financial counseling, life skills, and parenting skills to help families break the cycle of poverty. One program focuses on helping women who are coming out of prison; another offers a sober living community for people who have completed substance abuse treatment.
From the beginning, Tedrow said, the organization was focused on creating long-term solutions to poverty through building support systems that could offer struggling mothers relief from living crisis to crisis and start rebuilding their lives.
Programs are individually tailored to families’ unique situations and goals. Training programs are important, as many clients are “generationally poor,” in the sense that they’re young mothers who come from families in which they lacked models for appropriate parenting or regular employment.
While Passage Home provides support to struggling families, Tedrow is adamant about empowering clients rather than creating dependent relationships. “When helping people, we try not to do anything for them that they might be able to do for themselves,” she said.
“Our job is to encourage people to become more independent,” Tedrow continued. We discourage the concept where “we get involved in doing something for somebody, who becomes dependent on us as a giver and they become dependent on needing our help.”
In addition to empowering families, Passage Home also is working to revitalize the South Park and Lincoln Park community by buying and restoring (or in some cases, demolishing) run-down houses and apartment complexes in which drug selling and violence are rampant. The organization also recently completed construction of a primary care medical clinic in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. From the beginning, Passage Home has had a partnership with Lincoln Park Holiness Church to identify community needs and work on solutions.
Tedrow acknowledged that transitioning out of poverty permanently is difficult. “It’s very difficult to transition families from below-market rent to full market rent,” Tedrow said. A family in Passage Home housing may pay $350 to $400 per month in rent, while full market rent would be twice that amount.
Political decisions and economic forces play a large role in keeping people in poverty, she said. “Often our public policies and support aimed at helping people end up hurting people who live in poverty,” Tedrow said. In the last 10 to 15 years, the level of federal support for public housing has been “steadily declining,” she said. Meanwhile, the cost of living has increased without a compensatory increase in the minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.50 per hour. Additional challenges for mothers with low wage jobs is the high cost of child care and the fact that many low wage jobs don’t offer the opportunity to work 40 hours per week.
Although many families served by Passage Home stay on the brink of poverty, Tedrow says the hope is they become stable enough that children can make it through school and have a chance at a better future. “For the most part, people are managing with very limited resources better than they did before they got to us,” Tedrow said.
Motivated to help?
• The Passage Home Thrift Store accepts furniture, tools and home goods of all kinds for resale. The store provides job training and employment, and profits help fund Passage Home programs. Contact Lisa Parrish at 919-755-6644 or 919-538-6099.
• Passage Home also offers volunteer opportunities for tutoring children in an afterschool program at the Safety Club on Branch Street. Contact Lisa Johns at 919-834-0666 x233.