MIAMI — By the time a woman ends up homeless, she has already lost far more than a place to live. Because of the magnitude and complexity of the loss, providing a homeless woman with just housing is akin to placing a Band-Aid on a deep, seriously infected wound and expecting it to heal.
A shelter located smack dab in the heart of one of Miami’s most impoverished communities is helping women to put their lives back together by providing them with a place to live, and a great deal more.
The Lotus House, named after the lotus flower, a universal symbol of compassion and hope, is a transitional housing facility in Overtown that provides up to 50 women and 16 babies with a place to lay their heads, heal their lives, and prepare for a brighter future.
Walking onto the lushly landscaped campus, visitors are greeted by a marked peacefulness, the tranquil sound of a nearby water fall blending easily with chirping birds and a few guests, as the residents are called, in conversation at one of the canopied outdoor tables.
Constance Collins Margulies embodies everything that Lotus House represents. A tall, attractive woman with long flowing hair and engaging eyes, the self-described “universalist” oozes peace, compassion and acceptance. The former real estate developer took the South Florida Times on a tour of the facility during an interview this week.
Margulies is president and founder of the shelter, which is operated by The Sundari Foundation, a five-year-old non-profit, public charity “dedicated to promoting the education, advancement and social inclusion of poor, disadvantaged and homeless women and children,” according to its informational brochure.
Margulies and her husband, Martin, are also two of the country’s top art collectors, a distinction that allows the walls of the shelter’s apartments and gathering spaces to be adorned with exquisite artwork.
The tone of Margulies’ voice and the smile on her face reveal reverence when she introduces Ray, the program’s health and wellness coordinator. (Margulies asked that the guests’ last names be omitted to respect their privacy.)
“This is Ray, who I might add is a graduate of our program, she makes sure that every woman gets her basic wellness exam, follow-up treatment if she needs it, eye care, dental care and mental health assessment…ideally in the first 30 days of coming here,” Margulies calmly boasts.
The program’s format is guided by common sense. Expecting a woman to feel good about herself, discover her talents, and learn to live self-sufficiently is unrealistic if she is battling illness, undiagnosed mental health problems or needs something as basic as eye glasses.
“That’s one of the most essential aspects of getting your life back on track, because let’s face it, if you’re not feeling well, it’s hard to focus on anything else,” Margulies explained.
Programming at Lotus is holistic and comprehensive. As each woman enters the shelter, she receives an individual action plan for improving all aspects of her of life – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially.
By engaging in individual and group counseling, a health and wellness program that includes relaxation techniques, yoga and massage therapy and a host of other services, women are able to peel back the layers of dysfunction that stagnate their ability to flourish.
Ellen Samimy is Lotus’ clinical therapist and has provided counseling to its guests for the past four and a half months.
“Right now we have two formal groups per week,” Samimy said, in addition to the weekly individual counseling that each woman receives.
Ruth, 54, from Broward County, has lived at the shelter since January. After kicking a short substance addiction, she was referred to Lotus from the drug treatment facility, she told the South Florida Times during an interview in her tastefully decorated apartment.
Due to a disability, she can only work part-time. Nevertheless, Ruth said she is looking forward to beginning a new job at a Goodwill store this week and is confident that when she leaves the program in January, her life will remain on track.
Although this is her first stay at a shelter, Ruth said Lotus is different from what she’s heard about other places.
“Here it’s very cool, calm and collected.”
She said she is amazed at the variety of services available, and is especially fond of the creative writing class.
“Creative writing is very good, poetry, which I never got involved with that before in school because I couldn’t put the words. But it’s not the words that count,” Ruth explained.