Rare refuge for women
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Life was already precarious for Roxy Singleton when she found out she was pregnant.
But then it got worse.
Singleton, 27, was living with a man, who himself lived with his mother and stepfather. Her living situation changed when the man committed a crime and went to jail.
“His mom and stepdad threw me out three days after he went to jail,” said Singleton. “I was close to five months pregnant.”
She ate at church-sponsored food kitchens and stayed at overnight homeless shelters or the homes of friends or kindhearted strangers.
“I worried about where I’d sleep, what I’d eat — those basic things,” she said.
Today, Singleton and her daughter — four-and-a-half-month-old Natalie Grace — live in safety and comfort at Nativity House KC, a residential program for homeless pregnant women age 21 and older, based in Kansas City, Kansas.
The alternative would have been terrible.
“I would have had to give up my baby to the state, and probably just end up in a homeless shelter and try to figure out what to do,” said Singleton as she balanced her babbling, kicking daughter on her lap.
Nativity House, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, was born out of the efforts and inspiration of Barbara Belcher and her husband, Vin, members of Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Wea.
Nativity House opened on May 1, 2014, and has since accepted eight women into the program. Currently, four women live at the house under the guidance and care of housemother Lisa Blackstock.
Three of the current residents gave birth in September 2014. The mothers and their babies will stay a full year at the house during their post-birth stage and prepare to live independently.
During their stay at Nativity House, the residents are helped to either get jobs or to further their education. Their health insurance, medical care and dental care are all provided for them.
“Our programs are based on their goals, and Lisa has a goal-setting program with eight separate goals,” said Belcher, including spiritual, educational and employment-related ones.
“Our philosophy,” continued the executive director of Nativity House, “is that we are not concerned only about their uterus; we love the whole woman.”
Blackstock teaches a purity program called “Get Real.” She also teaches a religious component based on Matthew Kelly’s “Decision Point.” As a result of their participation in the Nativity House program, two of the women are in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program to become Catholics.
Others teach the young women more practical skills, like financial literacy based on Dave Ramsey’s program.
Morgan West, 25, came to Nativity House on her due date. Fortunately, her son Richard Isaiah was born five days after she entered the program.
“He has his grandfather’s name, which is Richard, and that’s also my dad’s middle name,” said West. “I was 12 when [Dad] died. I felt like when I gave birth to my son, he was there.”
If there had been no Nativity House, she would have had to place Richard Isaiah for adoption.
Kelsey Flaherty, 23, was living with her father when she became pregnant. He was not happy about this, so Flaherty went to live with her mother, who was getting divorced.
“A week and a half before she moved out, she informed me that she found a new place to live and I was not allowed to go with her,” said Flaherty. “So I stayed in her old house. I was basically squatting, homeless, for two months.”
Flaherty found Nativity House thanks to help she received through an archdiocesan pro-life ministry.
At the time, she was a cashier at a grocery store in Overland Park, where her brother worked in the deli. One day, her brother called her excitedly as she clocked in.
“[He said,] ‘I found this phone number on the back of the T-shirt of some random woman in the produce department,’” said Flaherty.
That number was for the Gabriel Project.
Flaherty called it, and they matched her with an “angel.” Her angel put her in touch with Nativity House, where she was set up for an intake interview.
“I was the most nervous wreck ever — wondering if I’d legitimately have a safe place to stay,” said Flaherty. “It was very scary.”
Flaherty, the mother of four-month-old Rilynn Eilyssa, is going to school to be a certified nursing assistant and then plans to continue her studies to be an obstetrics and gynecology nurse.
“Having a safe place to stay for me and my daughter is my main goal — to give her a better life than I had,” said Flaherty.
The fourth woman to stay at Nativity House is a new arrival, Cristen Landers, now six months pregnant. Age 21, she would have been eligible to stay at the Light House in Kansas City, Missouri, if they had had room. Instead, they referred her to Nativity House.
“[Nativity House] helped me get a doctor,” she said. “I didn’t have insurance, and they helped me get a doctor and insurance.”
There is a huge demand for maternity shelters for homeless, pregnant adult women, said Belcher. Nativity House is the only program for these women in the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area. Sadly, Nativity House only has room for four, and has turned away many: 50 last year, 10 in January, and three so far in February.
“There’s . . . very few resources in town for homeless pregnant women over age 18,” said Belcher. “Most transitional housing [programs] don’t want pregnant women in their facilities because they don’t want the risk. So it’s really hard when we have people calling and wanting help, and we’re full.”
That’s why Belcher wants to expand from a single house to a Nativity Village.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, always supportive of pro-life efforts, visited Nativity House on Jan. 18.
“Archbishop Naumann was dismayed to learn that we had to turn 50 women away last year because there was no room in the inn,” said Belcher. “We will begin a feasibility study this year to build Nativity Village and increase our capacity to care for more women and their babies.”
For information about Nativity House, call Belcher at (913) 220-6869.