The Oakland Elizabeth House
Diane Park | Monday, October 8, 2018
Oakland Elizabeth House (OEH) is a transitional residence located in Oakland, California that serves single mothers and their children who have suffered from poverty, homelessness and abuse. Providing housing and other resources like counseling and parenting classes for about 10 families, OEH particularly focuses on helping their residents find permanent housing, sustainable incomes and familial stability. I was able to spend the past summer serving this community as a participant of Notre Dame’s Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP).
For the families residing at OEH, it is particularly difficult to break the cycles of poverty and even violence when their circumstances seem locked in. OEH is needed to take a stance against this cycle, and provide the help needed for these single mothers who are fighting to break that cycle for their own children. Although no house can be perfect, the mothers at OEH truly portray the need for community and support. The mothers not only seek and receive this support from the OEH staff, but they often also rely on each other. So many mothers help take care of each other’s children and help each other out with their separate responsibilities.
One of the mothers I was able to interact with the most was one of the brightest and funniest moms at OEH. She was very outgoing, offering to help me practice my Spanish and assisting me out whenever I needed anything around the house. So I was surprised to learn that she had initially been extremely difficult for the mothers to get along with. She put up walls, never interacted with the other mothers and seemed determined to keep to herself. In just the few months she had been there, she had completely changed, and I got to meet her amazing and open self. The other mothers love her leadership qualities, humor, and genuine care for the community.
There is such evident clarity that everyone deserves a safe environment. OEH has played such a significant role in providing security to these women who have unfortunately had so little of it. Many OEH women began their stay in the program just as defensive and hostile as the mother I mentioned above. But, by gradually meeting their basic needs of security and care, OEH could engender a better environment for these mothers and their kids. In my time at OEH, I saw mothers make meals together, pick up another child while their mom had to work a shift and put in the effort to look out for each other. Without any biological relation, many have formed a family with all the members of OEH, teaching me how to pursue deeper kinship in my relationships.
OEH is changing lives at a more localized level. In such a political climate as ours where the basic human needs of security — especially for women — are seemingly continuously neglected, all of their efforts both big and small are making all the difference. Physical and emotional abuse, homelessness and poverty have core, underlying issues that would be difficult to solve with the efforts of one organization. But I have learned that even the smallest and most gradual of efforts can ultimately break the cyclical nature of these adversities. These efforts have been and will always be needed; we are all called to act upon them.
More information about Oakland Elizabeth House can be found at http://www.oakehouse.org/.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.