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Valley Place: A refuge for those on the way to a home

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Annstanette Roland experienced homelessness after losing her hotel housekeeping job when the coronavirus pandemic started. The D.C. charity Friendship Place helped her search for a home. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

Before the coronavirus pandemic began, Annstanette Roland worked in hospitality: 12 years in the housekeeping department of a hotel that served Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and four years at the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Once the pandemic hit, the hospitality industry became very inhospitable.

I asked Roland: Is that when you lost your job?

“That’s when I lost my job, my apartment, my car, my head,” she said. “I was all over the place.”

Roland, 57, is in a good place now. After participating in a temporary housing program run by Friendship Place, a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand, she has permanent supportive housing.

That program — bridge housing that provides a transition between homelessness and homefullness — is at Valley Place, a building in Southeast with room for 52 adults. The one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are fully furnished. Residents work with case workers who help them prepare for stable housing.

The program is designed to last 90 days, but some participants stay longer. The pandemic threw a wrench into a lot of plans. Roland lived at Valley Place for 13 months. This June, she moved into her own apartment in Southwest near the waterfront.

Roland returns to Valley Place every Friday morning to meet with any residents interested in hearing her story and benefiting from her advice.

“You have some people in there that cannot advocate for themselves,” she said. “They need a little more help in trying to do so.”

Roland was born and raised in D.C. Hers wasn’t an easy childhood. “My mom was a drug addict; my dad was an alcoholic,” she said.

One set of grandparents ran a church, she told me, and the other owned a liquor store.

Roland laughed at the incongruity of it or maybe at that particular fact’s heavy-handed symbolism: of how it so neatly encapsulates so many people’s struggle between the light and the dark.

Roland had her own 20-year battle with drugs and homelessness. That’s what prompted her to make the difficult decision to allow her then-10-year-old son to be adopted. Remembering the deprivation and uncertainty of her own childhood, she said, “I didn’t want to do that to my son.”

Roland overcame her addiction after a 90-day program in West Virginia run by So Others Might Eat. She worked at the hotel; she kept in touch with her son and his new family. Then came the pandemic and the cascade of loss.

“I slept outside of Union Station for four months,” she said. She slept in parking garages and under bridges. It was while sleeping under a bridge on Minnesota Avenue that Roland received a blow to the face from a person she never saw. Someone was assaulting people living on the streets.

“I woke up bleeding all over,” she said.

After that, Roland moved into the Harriet Tubman shelter in Southeast run by Catholic Charities DC.

“I never thought I would end up in that predicament, but it all panned out,” she said. “It panned out for the good.”

Roland’s cousin told her about the Friendship Place program at Valley Place. Her Catholic Charities case worker connected her with it and Roland moved in. Once she was granted a housing voucher, she was matched with another nonprofit, DC Doors, which helped her find permanent supportive housing.

And now she returns to Valley Place.

“I come back here and share my story with them, because it helps me and it also helps them,” she said. “If they’re in there and it might be more than 90 days, but I tell them you don’t have nothing to worry about. They’re not going to put you out unless you act up.”

I asked Annstanette Roland if it was okay for me to share the details of her life. She said it was.

“I think it’s important,” she said. “It’s just a motto of mine. I said to myself that people who’ve actually been through the struggle can help those struggling better than those who have never been through the struggle.”

Then she added: “I think everybody has struggled sometime in their life. They didn’t necessarily have to be homeless, but a struggle is a struggle.”

Helping Hand

Your donation to Friendship Place can help people like Annstanette Roland. To give online to Friendship Place, go to posthelpinghand.com. To donate by mail, send a check to Friendship Place, 4713 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016. Thank you.

John Kelly writes John Kelly’s Washington, a daily look at Washington’s less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. Twitter

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