Credit: Provided

Phoenix Recovery Support Services is expanding its services, rehabbing what was originally a convent into supportive housing for pregnant women and mothers with children who are working on their recovery.

The idea is to provide a supportive environment and help the women not only to continue their recovery, but find to jobs and stable housing, provide childcare and get physical and mental health services they might need. Phoenix Recovery will provide services on site, and will connect the women with West Side organizations and care providers for any services they don’t have. Vauna Hernandez, the organization’s executive director, explained that they believe that residents shouldn’t be left to their own devices after they leave the recovery homes and said that they need to do everything they can to help them lead healthy, stable lives.

Phoenix Recovery is based inside the historic Austin YMCA building, and the new home wouldn’t be far away. Hernandez said that the building at the southeast corner of Leamington Avenue and Iowa Street started out as a convent and later became a recovery home, and they saw the new use as fitting continuation of that legacy. After the renovations are complete sometime during the middle of 2024, the building will be able to house up to 30 women, but they plan to open with 15.

Phoenix Recovery Support Services started out focusing on men, but it now offers some programs to women. Hernandez said that when they first heard last year about a state grant funding opportunity that would allow them to provide services to pregnant and postpartum women, they originally decided to “stick with what we were doing.”

A conversation with Dr. Ruchi Fitzgerald, a PCC Wellness physician who specializes in family medicine and addiction medicine, changed Hernandez’s mind.

Both women are part of the West Side Heroin and Opioid Task Force, and the topic came up during a resource fair they both attended.

“She said – you have to do it,” Hernandez recalled. “[This] is the population she specializes in, and this is her absolute passion. And she shared that they had no place for them to go. And she just pleaded with me – you guys have to do this project.”

After some further conversations, Phoenix Recovery and PCC Wellness agreed to collaborate on the project.

“We said – how could we not do it?” Hernandez said. “We’re here to serve the community, and how can we leave out that super-vulnerable population of justice-involved women, and pregnant, post-partum women, especially those who fall into [several of] those categories.”

The residents will be able to access PCC Wellness’ services, such as primary care and dental care, as well Phoenix Recovery’s other West Side community partners. They will be able to get vocation training from entities such as the Above and Beyond Center, and get their physical health needs taken care of at providers such as the Lawndale Christian Health Center. They will also have the ability to get mental health services at providers such as Hargrove Hospital. Hernandez said that they are building a relationship with Forest Park’s Riveredge Hospital to provide more extensive mental health services, and they are working with BMO Harris Bank, which has a branch in Austin, to teach residents financial literacy.

She said that once they leave the recovery home, the residents would still be able to take advantage of the resources the partners provide.

The recovery home will have a daycare and a communal kitchen on site. Hernandez said that they will help residents get documents such as state IDs, as well as to apply for benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program. They help residents find jobs, and, when the residents are ready to move out, Phoenix Recovery doesn’t just help them find a place to live – it helps them take care of any utility bills they owe and get furniture and other necessities.

“You can’t kind of progress to the next phase of life without those things,” Hernandez said. “One of the important things we try to convey to people – we’re not just setting up appointments, but we show them how to advocate for themselves.”

.She said they expect to start renovations in December, with the goal of finishing them up within six months.

“The building has great bones, it’s beautiful, ” Hernandez said. “I think of how appropriate is that we’re going to be using it for pregnant mothers, and we’re really looking forward to getting it going.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...