Sojourner House History + Timeline
Sojourner House, named after the great African American preacher, Sojourner Truth, was founded in 1991 by a group of women from Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church. Twenty-six representatives from Pittsburgh’s social service agencies gathered to identify potential solutions to problems that affect women’s lives.
During this gathering, it was discovered that many women do not seek help for their addictions for fear they will lose their children and that there were far fewer rehabilitation programs for women than men. The consensus of the meeting was that drug and alcohol addicted mothers with their children were the group in greatest need and should be the prime target for significant aid.
The identified need was so urgent and challenging that these representatives agreed to serve as a provisional board of directors for the newly proposed project. Action Housing, Women’s Center and Shelter, Bethlehem Haven, Allegheny County Department of Welfare, and East End Cooperative Ministry were among the agencies and organizations represented.
Between 1991 and 1994, Sojourner House operated under the umbrella of East End Cooperative Ministry. In 1994, Sojourner House successfully applied for its own nonprofit status and became licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as a “women with children” residential rehabilitation facility.
Its goal is to help families to successfully continue their recovery journey, focusing on strengthening family relationships, promoting self-sufficiency, long term sobriety, and mental health stability.
With this in mind, Sojourner House created a sister project called Sojourner House MOMS (Motivation, Opportunities, Mentoring, and Spirituality). Incorporated in 2004, Sojourner House MOMS provides permanent, supportive housing to homeless, dual diagnosed mothers and their children. The award-winning MOMS project originated at the request of Negley Place Neighborhood Alliance, a local grassroots organization. MOMS initiated as a partnership among Sojourner House, Inc., NPNA, and East Liberty Development, Inc. Sojourner House MOMS is based on the idea that with stable housing and appropriate services, women can maintain sobriety, achieve self-sufficiency, and build a stronger family life for their children.
The major successes of the program include the creation of individual apartments for 16 larger families in four buildings, scattered through the East Liberty neighborhood. The project was divided into two phases: Phase I, providing six three-bedroom units, opened in 2004, and Phase II, providing ten three- and four-bedroom units, opened in May of 2009. The four properties were run-down nuisance properties known for hosting drug dealing and prostitution, and were originally identified by NPNA because of their blighting effect on the entire community. NPNA’s vision to rebuild their neighborhood by turning these vacant properties into safe, supportive, drug-free, affordable housing has enhanced the neighborhood. In 2012, Sojourner House leased five additional apartments to bring the total to 21. Today, the apartment buildings are interspersed in a healthy, diverse neighborhood and have the full support of neighbors.
To further enhance the program, Sojourner House MOMS transformed two formerly vacant lots owned by the City of Pittsburgh into a viable, safe, and environmentally sustainable play yard called “MOMS Green.” This play yard is used by the families of the MOMS program as well as neighbors, encouraging interaction between program participants and the community. MOMS Green provides a safe, creative place for children to play and was built using re-purposed materials.
In April of 2012, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services asked Sojourner House MOMS to acquire two housing programs that had been operated by Primary Care Health Services. ACDHS chose Sojourner House MOMS for this request because of the program’s reputation for excellence, and because the addition of the properties aligned with the mission of MOMS. After of a year of due diligence through a board-led Ad Hoc Committee, the Boards of Sojourner House and Sojourner House MOMS voted to adopt the two buildings and their programs, Sankofa and Open Arms, and the transfer became effective in October of 2013. Over $1,200,000 in foundation and government funding was committed toward the effort to repair and upgrade these facilities. Together, the adopted programs provide an additional 21 units of supportive housing to women and their children experiencing homelessness.
The Sojourner House MOMS program consistently meets or exceeds the outcomes set by HUD for permanent housing, employment and/or increased income and self-sufficiency for its families.