When Melissa Butz’s husband left her family in August, she deemed herself homeless in the mind.
The day after Christmas, she was homeless in reality.
“I don’t regret being homeless,” Butz said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s your desire to change.”
Butz’s apartment at the time required an $80,000 income minimum and her husband was the main provider. After grappling for months to make ends meet, Butz and her family were evicted. She lived for a month on a friend’s floor with her three children, and then Butz found a spot at Stepping Stones Shelter in Rockville in February.
Stepping Stones helped Butz, 42, an entrepreneur who runs an organizing business called Muddle Busters, find her footing and a new home. She moved into that home in Takoma Park on Monday.
Stepping Stones, a nonprofit which employs 13, serves families in need of emergency shelter, providing career counseling, job search training, tutoring for children and assistance with housing searches.
In 2011, the shelter served 33 families and 113 individuals. The building, a 1912 farmhouse nestled into a wooded corner abutting Dawson Farm Park, houses six families at a time. Families stay 65 days, on average.
The shelter brought in $665,310 and spent $606,784 in fiscal 2011.
For Butz and her three children, the shelter has been a savior of sorts. Her two youngest children, Emmett Acquoi, 5, and Emma Acquoi, 4, deemed their temporary home “fun.”
“Teachers come and help me with my homework,” Emmett said, refering to tutors who visit the shelter twice per week.
Children tend to drop a grade level every year their family does not have a permanent home, said Denise S. Fredericks, executive director of Stepping Stones. That’s why the tutors are so important.
“People think about shelters as being a warehouse for people,” Fredericks said. “We are all about home and family.”
Families can barbecue in the backyard and watch television in the living room.
Even Emmett finds the shelter comforting.
“He said, ‘Why are we called homeless when we live somewhere?’” Butz said.
Stepping Stones is staffed 24 hours per day, which includes two case managers. Generally, families stay at the shelter no longer than 90 days.
“There’s a big push to be moving families out of homelessness as soon as possible,” Fredericks said.
But assistance doesn’t end after families leave. Need food? Stepping Stones will donate some to former clients. Diapers? Stepping Stones has those, too.
“We always tell our families we’re always here for them even after they leave,” said Holly Rutter, director of shelter operations.
Items such as diapers or goods for a new home are a big expense for families when they’re living on a limited income, Rutter said.
For Butz, finding a new home proved a dream come true. Stepping Stones and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services helped the family find the home and pay rent for the first month. The family drove by the house multiple times before moving in, out of sheer excitement.
“It’s just been a huge hug from the community,” Butz said of her time at Stepping Stones. “I’m not alone. I use the ‘V’ for ‘Victor,’ not ‘Victim.’”