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Acres of Hope grows by acres at new location

Transitional housing for women is moving from Applegate to Bowman
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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When Acres of Hope relocates from Applegate to Bowman, the at-risk women and their children will have greater access to transportation, schools, groceries and the Auburn community, but that’s not all they’re excited about. The little differences matter, too, they said. Tessa Miller, for example, looks forward to having a small garden she can call her own and work in with her 7-year-old daughter. Linda Owens said the ability to watch her two children play outside while she’s cleaning their home is just one way life will be safer and easier. For the nonprofit program itself, it means the ability to expand and help more homeless women and their children while saving money and investing in its land rather than renting, said Michael Harper, development director for Acres of Hope. “Life transformation: That is what our mission is and this property obviously is an enabling part of that,” Harper said. “But our mission remains the same and we are very excited.” For six years, Acres of Hope has been located in Applegate at a converted motel that can support up to 10 families, Harper said. The new property, an old RV park on the corner of Bowman and Mill Pond roads, has potential to support at least double that amount, he said. The new land has 3.7 acres of usable space compared to the 1.25 acres it used on the rented 10-acre property, Harper said. Current families are scheduled to be relocated in late winter, early spring of 2013, he said. Moving to North Auburn changes it from an “outlying organization” to one that’s more involved in the community, Harper said. Shawnie Machado, co-owner of Machado Orchards about a half mile north of Acres of Hope’s future site, said she wasn’t familiar with the program, but after learning about it, she thought it was “great.” “I would be concerned if it was a hideaway for women against violence because a lot of things could go on. … And I would be a little nervous about that because it is next to a school,” Machado said. “But if it is just to better their education, give them the next step so they can help themselves, I think that would be great.” Several residents of the nearby Channel Hill neighborhood all talked favorably of the women and children that would be living in their community through a program that gives them a “second chance.” “It doesn’t bother me for the simple fact that some of the people that lived up there when it was a trailer park, they were low-income people and they were decent,” said Dave Coe, a retired contractor. “There were no incidences like drug busts or anything per se. “Never had a problem with it, and I don’t think there’s going to be a problem with the women up there. You’ve got to live somewhere, man.” Lisa Nystrom, a 24-year-old student, said she can relate on some level with the women as a low-income single mother herself. “If I was put in a similar situation where I didn’t have family to help, I probably would appreciate having some place to live as opposed to having me and my child homeless,” Nystrom said. “So it doesn’t bug me.” Families may stay at Acres of Hope for up to two years, with the goal of making it the last program they will need. In order for a woman to be accepted, she must be sober, must have children age 12 or younger and must commit to the long-term curriculum, he said. Both Owens and Miller said they entered the program in April after struggling with substance addictions. Now they both said they’ve been sober for seven months. “I had hit my bottom,” Miller said. “I couldn’t cope with life anymore, or at least the way I chose to live it. I had no hope, and I wanted more for my daughter and myself, and it seemed to be my answer.” Women come to Acres of Hope through referrals, and often there are 20 applicants for three open spots, Harper said. Meeting the higher demand for services is one of the main reasons for relocating, he said. “It allows us to expand and address a growing need for women and children in Placer County,” Harper said. “We are one of the only organizations in Placer County that provide the services that we do.” The new layout will be a more open plan that places families in separate cottages, grouped together as mini neighborhoods featuring a common yard space. Owens, 36, said the move will present a significant upgrade in accessibility, going from having nothing within walking distance to having a charter school for her children, a grocery store and more that is easily accessed by foot. For needs beyond the immediate area, there is a bus line that runs nearby – a luxury not available to the Applegate location where staff is sometimes relied on for rides, Owens said. “Not all of us can drive, so for those who can’t drive, we need staff to drive us to certain places like the grocery store, doctor’s appointments and whatnot,” she said. “And it will be better because we can take the bus from there.” Miller said the new cottages will give her and her daughter more personal space. The property is currently in a four- to six-month development phase during which prefabricated cottages will be moved there, Harper said. Acres of Hope plans to use the two buildings already on the land, but the rest will be newly constructed, he said. Bowman Charter School is just a block away, and school-age children from Acres of Hope will be automatically enrolled there since it is within the district’s boundaries, said Gary Yee, superintendent/principal of the school. “They’re part of the Bowman community by definition,” Yee said, “and they become part of the charter school family.” For more information on the program, visit acresofhopeonline.org. Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews