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Dept. of Hopeful News: A Special Home

Privacy and sanctuary have long been important to the people who run Miriam's House, a rehabbed apartment building in the District's Shaw-Cardozo neighborhood where as many as 15 women at a time can find nurturing support as they struggle with HIV, and often a history of substance abuse and homelessness. But it's hard for a charity to garner public support -- and donations -- if people don't know they're there.

The garden at Miriam's House in Washington. (Courtesy Miriam's House)

"We're so careful about privacy and security, we've not done much about getting our name out," said Carol D. Marsh, who runs the organization with her husband, Tim Fretz. They live on the premises, along with three resident volunteers. "Given the current economic reality, we've really had to change that."

One result: A fundraiser scheduled for May 12, to mark their 13th anniversary. It will be held off-site at the True Reformer Building, 1200 U St., NW, beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $5 (for folks not earning a wage) to $20, for the program. It will include an exhibit of art and music by residents, along with an oral presentation of the stories of two former residents. Marsh said they hope to raise $10,000 through ticket sales and donations.

Marsh said most residents now are women in their 40s and 50s. Their stays can be as brief as a week for those needing hospice care near the end of their lives, or as long as 12 years. On average, the stay is 2 1/2 to 3 years. Some women recover to a point where they can move to another form of housing; sometimes a substance-abuse relapse forces someone to leave.

Miriam's House provides more than a roof overhead. Onsite, they offer addiction counseling, secondary medical care, respite care for mothers, personal care, and a sense of community. They also help residents take advantage of offsite services such as physical, occupational and speech therapy, and medical care.

Miriam's House recently began opening to visitors and potential volunteers for monthly "Come and Learn" sessions. "It's not a fundraiser, it's a friend-raiser," Marsh said. "We never had people come to the house. It's these women's home. We thought it was an invasion."

But, with fundraising made more difficult by the recession, she and Fretz presented the idea to residents. "To a woman, they said 'go ahead, do it. We want Miriam's House to keep going,' " she said. The next one is scheduled for June 11. Contact Marsh for details at 202-667-1758, ext. 105, or at

If you know of a housing-related charity that deserves attention in Local Address's Department of Hopeful News, let us know with a quick comment, or send me an e-mail at

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  May 6, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Department of Hopeful News  
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