PHOTO: Olivia Mullin, the founder of Healing Housing, speaks with a group of women who wish to volunteer with the organization on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. / Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
On a Wednesday morning, a group of Williamson County women gathered inside the lower level of a Franklin house.
Would-be volunteers, their objective was to hear more about Healing Housing, a nonprofit transitional living home for women fighting addiction, and to tour of the facilities, which includes two houses.
They were greeted by Gaile Owens, the program director who acts as house mom, staying with the women overnight.
Olivia Mullin, the founder and former executive director of Healing Housing, called Owens the “hidden gem” of the program, acting in the roles of “mom, grandma,” and “schoolteacher.”
Among the ten women who currently live in the home, the ages range from mid-twenties to 50s and 60s. There is space for 14 residents.
Morgan, a 26-year-old Franklin native and resident in the program, said Owens had been a key to her own recovery.
“She’s going to protect me when I can’t protect myself, because I don’t always know the right decision to make at this point in my life.”
Mullin explained to the group how she began the nonprofit which opened its doors last April.
After leading two eight-week “Better Decisions” classes in the Tennessee Prison for Women, Mullin encountered a problem among inmates.
“Women that have an alcohol and drug problem that don’t have any money can go to treatment,” she explained, “but when those girls get to the end of the 30 days, where are they going to go? Thirty days in treatment, and your brain’s not even clear at that point.”
After two years of research and with the help of Brentwood United Methodist Church, Mullin said she learned housing was the major need for these women.
“I never thought I was going to be in the housing business,” she chuckled.
Healing Housing announced Thursday that Tracey Levine, an interventionist with Music City Interventions, would be stepping into Mullin’s role as executive director, while Mullin focuses on expanding the mission of the organization and its long-term sustainability.
“Our dream is to be sitting on a front porch 20 years from now and serving 50 women,” said Owens. “There’s more of a need in this area than people want to admit there is.”
Abuse and addiction
Once accepted to the program, women are required to get a job; Mullin said they are typically employed within 2.5 days of arriving at the house.
They must attend Alcoholics Anonymous or scheduled recovery meetings and take financial classes.
Board is $125 each week, Mullin explained, but $75 of the cost is placed into a savings account. “When they leave here, we want them to have a nest egg,” she said. The minimum stay is six months.
“We’re targeting a different population,” Mullin said, “because they need a chance as well.”
Mullin said she believes “100 percent” of the participants in the program have been either verbally, sexually or emotionally abused, which increases the importance of weekly therapy sessions.
“The fact that those issues were never addressed, you can’t get better if you don’t get down to the root of what’s wrong,” Mullin said.
Owens estimated that about half of the women who come into Healing Housing treatment have abused painkillers or heroin.
“The opioid epidemic is just something that blows my mind,” she admitted.
“It’s like a sorority house”
Inside the first house, called “The Landing,” four women share a bedroom. A porch on the back has a barbeque grill, and in the backyard, picnic tables crowd around a bonfire pit.
Communal living areas, a bright kitchen with flowers, and a dining table complete the quarters.
Each piece of furniture was donated, Mullin told the group.
In the next house, named “The Lodge” for its dark, wooden paneling, “Jen’s Closet” is set up like a boutique for the women to pick up clothing for interviews and professional life.
The closet was donated by the family of Jennifer Graham, a nurse from Williamson County who lost her battle with cancer in 2008.
“It is a project she would have wanted to do because it would bring joy and give value to persons whom she would love,” reads an epitaph circumscribed onto a background of sunflowers, above a photo of Graham.
“It’s like a sorority house,” one of the women on the tour said to the woman next to her, smiling.
“It saved my life”
Morgan said the budgeting classes are especially important to her: she began abusing drugs and alcohol at age 14, and said she has the financial acumen of a 14-year-old. “When you start using, you stop developing,” she explained.
Morgan has completed 11 treatment courses, but said she “never did something different afterwards.”
After being in the Williamson County Drug Court, she heard about Healing Housing.
Now she has been in the program for four months, and said it saved her life.
“I didn’t know how to be responsible or pay bills, or knew what it felt like to let people love me and care about me,” Morgan told the group. “But this place has taught me all of that. They have the resources, and the time and the love and the care that everybody puts into this place, is what makes it so amazing.”
“Everybody here loves us right where we’re at,” she added. “They don’t try and change us, they don’t try to control us, they just love us right where we’re at, problems and all.”
To learn more about Healing Housing and upcoming fundraising opportunities and events, click here.