Somewhere in Everett is a house soon to be a haven. Its residents will be women whose lives have been derailed by prostitution, sex trafficking and addiction.
“It opened on Feb. 19, and we have just hired a residential coordinator,” said Norene Laggart, executive director of Peoria Home.
Established as a nonprofit in 2014, Everett-based Peoria Home has a goal of running a two-year residential program for women who have worked as prostitutes. Along with providing a rent-free place to live, its aim is giving women a real chance at reclaiming their lives through drug treatment, health care, counseling, education and job training.
Peoria Home is modeled after the Magdalene House/Thistle Farms program in Nashville. Founded by Becca Stevens, that program includes a line of candles, home and beauty products. The business helps survivors of sexual exploitation gain job skills while earning an income.
Eventually, the Everett nonprofit plans to include a similar social enterprise business. The first step is housing.
The house in Everett was purchased by a couple who heard Peoria Home’s founder, Paula Newman-Skomski, speak at an event a couple years ago. The couple will rent out the house, “a beautiful little craftsman with a lot of character,” to the nonprofit, Laggart said.
Newman-Skomski’s passion for the project came from her work. For a decade, she has been a forensic nurse examiner at the Providence Intervention Center for Assault and Abuse. Laggart, too, has worked with survivors of sexual violence and exploitation. “I was a victim advocate for the Providence Intervention Center,” said Laggart, now devoted full-time to Peoria Home.
A “Beacon of Hope” fundraising dinner for Peoria Home, scheduled for Saturday in the conference room at Everett’s Angel of the Winds Event Center, is sold out. “Our goal was 200 people, and we’re over that. We’d like to be able to raise $60,000,” Laggart said. An information day for potential volunteers is coming up April 14, and Peoria Home always needs donations, she added.
The first three residents will soon be chosen through a process that includes interviews with a three-member panel. “One is a social service partner, another person from health care, and a survivor,” Laggart said.
Potential residents must not have serious mental health issues that would keep them from living independently. Nor can they have serious legal issues. “Everybody needs to be safe,” Laggart said.
To get started, Peoria Home has hired Alisa Grant as a residential coordinator. A Nashville native, Grant is a graduate of the Thistle Farms program. “Here’s a woman who has turned her her life around, and is now walking a whole new life,” Laggart said.
Laggart said the program, which calls for a two-year commitment, won’t be court-mandated. “A judge won’t send them to Peoria Home. It’s for a woman who wants to turn her life around, and reclaim her freedom,” Laggart said.
The first six months will focus on stability. Those needing it will go to drug rehab before moving in. Peoria Home will partner with other agencies to provide mental health services, job training, and educational help. The nonprofit is already working with Edmonds Community College.
“There’s a lot of trauma for these women, and many come from a home of abuse as children,” Laggart said. “A lot of healing has to go on emotionally.” Help will also include boosting day-to-day life skills like budgeting, cooking, even sticking to a schedule.
In six years as a victims’ advocate, Laggart said she saw women leave the emergency room with no long-term recovery services “if they wanted to get out of the life.” Teens have options, including Everett’s Cocoon House. “They’ve got to have safe housing. They need more than 30 or 60 or 90 days,” she said.
“These woman are remarkable. They’re so resilient,” Laggart said. “Nobody ever said, ‘I want to grow up being a prostitute.’”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help
Peoria Home is an Everett-based nonprofit working to provide a home and services to help women who have been involved in prostitution and addiction. A “Beacon of Hope” benefit event scheduled for Saturday is sold out. Information about supporting the cause or volunteering is at: www.peoriahome.org/