Recovering from addiction is a difficult task for anyone but one that is especially challenging for mothers, with many women not seeking help for fear of losing their children. More than 30 years ago, one East Liberty neighbor set out to address this issue in Pittsburgh.

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 after a gathering of Pittsburgh’s social service agencies identified the particular challenges mothers struggling with substance abuse face. Recognizing that there were far fewer rehabilitation programs for women than men, representatives from Action Housing, Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, Bethlehem Haven, Allegheny County Department of Welfare, and East End Cooperative Ministry came together to take action.

Sojourner House was born.

Today, the organization provides inpatient treatment to women with substance abuse disorder while offering a residential-like setting for their children to stay with them. Each mother is provided an apartment with linens, basic kitchen items, and a starter pantry. While in the program, the mothers and their children participate in recovery classes and receive round-the-clock support for up to six months.

“We work to remove the stigma of addiction,” said Laura McCurdy, director of advancement at Sojourner House.

“Many of these women arrive with backgrounds that include different forms of abuse, financial breakdowns, family disruptions, and even other mental health disorders, so we aim to provide understanding and kindness to their experiences and needs.”

Sojourner House soon realized that after graduating from the program, families often needed support transitioning back into the community. That was the driver behind their sister project called Sojourner House MOMS (Motivation, Opportunities, Mentoring, and Spirituality).

Created in 2004, Sojourner House MOMS provides permanent and transitional supportive housing to homeless, dual-diagnosed mothers and their children. The award-winning project originated at the request of Negley Place Neighborhood Alliance (NPNA), a local grassroots organization, and was a partnership between Sojourner House, Inc., NPNA, and East Liberty Development, Inc (ELDI).

“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,” said McCurdy.

Starting with one 14-unit apartment building, the organization now has 56 units across East Liberty and Homewood. ELDI assisted in the acquisition of the apartment buildings and MOMS play yard.

Families can stay in the transitional supportive housing for up to one year. During that time, two families share an apartment while building their next steps, whether that be financial repair, securing permanent housing, additional support in their recovery, or even workforce preparation. The permanent housing allows families to stay indefinitely as long as they meet certain criteria, including working towards recovery and self-sufficiency.

With programming and supportive housing available for mothers and their children, Sojourner House is helping recovering mothers live rather than just survive.

Sojourner House’s aftercare program is another way the organization is working to ensure families make a smooth transition back into the community.

“For Sojourner House, discharge planning begins the day a client enters the program,” explained McCurdy. “Whether it be housing needs, court, reunification, building external supports, or even transportation for their appointments. Once they leave, the aftercare program kicks in with check-ins to see if there are barriers they are experiencing that we can assist with or provide additional resources and supports.”

After going through the Sojourner House program and living in the Sojourner House MOMS permanent housing, Heather was hired to work as a recovery support specialist for the program. Sojourner House helped Heather to support her children, pay for her education, find permanent housing, and ultimately find a job that she loves.

“I am passionate about the program, believe in the program, and am living proof that the program works. Sojourner House saved my life and helped to guide me to find my purpose,” she said.

Sojourner House does community outreach all over Southwestern Pennsylvania, admitting women from Allegheny County and the surrounding region and state.

For McCurdy, what makes Sojourner House special is the organization’s steadfast commitment to the original vision that has carried it through the decades.

“We maintain our focus on the women and their children. We have grown some of the programs offered, but the mission and purpose have not changed.”

Women or family members interested in Sojourner House’s inpatient treatment program can call 412-441-7783. For the Sojourner House MOMS housing program, inquiries can be made through Allegheny County LINK 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-866-730-2368.

➡ Sojourner House is always looking for community support and volunteers. Learn more here.