Heather House provides shelter, food and resources to get people back on their feet

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - Denise McGee is thankful to have a home. After four years of being homeless, the 31-year-old woman can finally sit back and enjoy the holidays.

Most of her worries are gone. She no longer spends time wondering where she'll move to next or, during this time of year, if her two children will have gifts for Christmas.

The memories of hopping from one house to another, of spending time at shelters or sleeping at the Davis train depot with her children are now in the past.

The family has a small Christmas tree in the middle of the living room. It was given by her father-in-law and decorated with a plethora of ornaments. McGee can't recall the last time she had a Christmas tree of her own, she said.

Her husband, Thomas McGee, 31, whom she recently married, also spent his share of years being homeless. He admits he spent most of his life in prison, serving four prison terms for drug abuse and related convictions.

During the time he spent out of prison, Thomas McGee said, he lived at various motels, homeless shelters and for a total of two years, lived on the streets of Fairfield with a bundle of blankets.

He has been clean for almost three years and together with his wife, now live their lives "according to God's will," Denise McGee said as she recently cooked tamales inside her two-bedroom apartment.
Together, they are looking forward to a future of family memories, warm meals and a place they can call their own. And this was possible, Denise McGee said, because of the Heather House.

"From sleeping on a mattress to having structure at the Heather House, I don't think we could have gotten this far without them," she said.

Heather House is a shelter that provides temporary housing, food and case management to the homeless, and is operated by the Interfaith Council of Solano County.

The facility has 24 beds, each one filled every night with a warm body. Its clients are allowed to stay for two months and must abide diligently by the rules, such as staying clean and sober, cooking meals for the entire shelter and fulfilling various "chore" duties.

It's a tough regimen, Denise McGee said, but it's one that helped her and her family find a home.

"It was really hard living with other people's personalities and their lifestyles but at the same time, it was very rewarding," she said. "We had all our needs met and had a lot of resources available to us.

"But you have to work at what you want in order to get out of there, you really have to work at it."


Linda Mahoney, executive director at the Heather House, has been at the shelter since the council took it over in 2001. She has seen numerous families hit rock bottom for various reasons.

"Just because you're homeless doesn't mean you became homeless under the same circumstances as someone else," she said. "There are myriad reasons, such as domestic violence, loss of a job, substance abuse issues, divorce and the high cost of housing in this area."

She has also seen families, and at times, a mother and her children, who lived in cars, on the streets or jumped from couch to couch.

The program at the Heather House, she said, might be challenging but it has a 75 percent success rate for those who complete it.

"While they are here, they have to work together, eat together, do chores together and it's like an extended family," she said. "But they are focused, they are achieving goals and we continue that relationship after they move out with an aftercare program. We won't set someone up to fail."

Single moms

Rules are what people need in everyday lives.

Anita Quiroz, 23, lived in Rio Vista for a year before she was evicted for being two months behind in rent payments. It was impossible to find a job in the small town, she said, and structure was needed in her life.

"I was struggling financially and I had no job experience," she said. "I was in a no-win situation, with no money to buy a car or move out, so I made the decision to leave Rio Vista."

Eventually, her path took Quiroz and her two children to Heather House, where she found the structure she lacked. She now has her own apartment.

"I worked really hard to find a job and to save as much as possible," said Quiroz, who now works at Safeway and pulls as many hours as she can. "And every spare moment I had, I looked for an apartment."

For the single mother, being on her own is challenging, but she feels blessed to have gone through the program at the Heather House.

"This experience is something I'll always remember and it made all of us stronger," she said. "I did see the light at the end of the tunnel. It took a lot of hard work and energy, but it also took believing in yourself."