Last week's cozy and casual Susan B. Anthony event at the Reed Opera House netted $358 for Salem's Center for Hope & Safety. In a thank-you note to organizers, the center's Executive Director, Jayne Downing, said the fundraiser "allows us to continue providing support to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking." We enjoyed the "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" vibe at the festivities that marked the suffragette's long-ago speaking appearance at the Reed, just as we've enjoyed the sun break in recent days. But, it being Oregon, we'll soon be singing "Here Comes the Rain Again."

A new kind of house marm... Don't you dare call PJ Johnson a schoolmarm.

She stays at home, teaches young women how to prepare meals, clean house, and even cares for their infant and older children when needed. But she is not prim or prudish. She herself was once homeless, and now lives in the Titus 3 house in Dallas, helping girls and young women recently released from the Polk County Jail or the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville get back onto their feet and improve their lives.

PJ Johnson, left, and Frank Puentes stopped by Holding Court in downtown Salem on Tuesday to get out the word that a Dallas nonprofit is in need of some children’s play equipment. (Photo: MICHAEL DAVIS / Statesman Journal)

Johnson and Titus 3 Board Member Frank Puentes were at Holding Court to tell us about the white, wisteria-bathed house at SW Church and Oak streets in Dallas.

"We want to introduce ourselves. Too many people don't even know we exist," Johnson said. "We're not even well known in Dallas, and we want to change that."

The home, with a window-heavy sun porch, serves five or six women at a time. They can live in the home for up to a year, taking counsel from Johnson, who considers the effort to help them find work and education her ministry. She is not paid a dime for working with the home's residents, Puentes said, and she works social and traditional media furiously to gain what she needs to make ends meet.

Last week, for instance, the home's freezer was bare, so she put out a call on Facebook, and within 90 minutes, they had food aplenty. This has been routine for the five years the home has existed.

While Johnson considers her work faith based, she does not force the women to attend Bible study or church. She wants them to discover their blessings on their own.

"When we eat together four or five times per week, I always offering a blessing, but I make no one sing for their supper. Forcing it doesn't help anyone," Johnson said.

She also gets help from the Dallas Ministerial Association, and the pastors who belong to it.

DALLAS -- The painting party at the soon-to-be-opened indoor playground, The Jungle Gym, on Main Street on May 10 was more than a chance to spruce up before opening day later this month.

Volunteers fromTitus 3, a Dallas group home that serves homeless women after release from jail or prison time, paint a mural at The Jungle Gym in Dallas on May 10.

It was a chance for a group of women living at a transitional home in Dallas to give back to their community.

These women live at Titus 3, a group home established by Dallas residents P.J. Johnson and Dana Gilkison to help homeless women released into the community after serving jail or prison time get back on their feet.

The program was quietly started in September 2010.

Johnson, formerly of the Dallas Resource Center, said she started the nonprofit to help women on parole and probation adjust back into society as productive citizens.

"I knew that there were women out there that were homeless in Polk County and that just wasn't OK," she said.

Titus 3 is a faith-based program that requires participants to look for housing, work or attend school, and enroll in a county-sponsored counseling course to help them change destructive thought patterns and behavior.

While the home is similar to one the Dallas Ministerial Association attempted to establish last year serving homeless men released from prison, the two are unconnected.

In addition to working with Polk County Community Corrections, Polk County Mental Health, the Oregon Department of Human Services and Clear Paths, Titus 3 encourages the women to volunteer.

"We look for things for our girls (to do) to give back to the community," Johnson said. "They want to be able to take pride in the work they do in the community."

Titus 3 residents volunteer at the Polk County Bounty Market

with setup and during market hours each Thursday and serve meals at James2 Community Kitchen each Tuesday.

Titus 3 resident Billie King, 38, has been in the program since late November.

"I think we can do some good," she said of the volunteer projects, adding that working in the community is helping her. "I'm shy, so this gives me a chance to get out in the community and get to know people and give back."

Five women live in the home, with Johnson living onsite as a supervisor. Women can spend up to a year in the home.

"We feel that it takes a year to get that stability," Johnson said. "You can't turn your life around in three months."

Community Corrections Director Marty Silbernagel said the program rules and expectations are allowing participants to succeed.

"They have been making life changes, positive life changes," he said.

Silbernagel said 12 women have been through the program and, so far, they have been able to avoid re-offending.

"It's been open for about eight months and I haven't heard anything from neighbors who are upset," Silbernagel said. "I think it is going pretty well."

Johnson said working with the women in the house through her role as "house mom" has been inspiring.

"My life is so blessed by these girls," she said. "They keep me going. I'm retired, so I could be alone every night eating a TV dinner. Instead, I'm sitting down to dinner each night sharing laughter and love. Far better than a TV dinner alone."

Troi Nethery, 22, who just began the program last week, said she is excited about the opportunity and hopes to be able to enroll in school soon.

"I think it's amazing what P.J. does," she said. "She has hope for everybody and for all of us. It makes it easy to believe in yourself."

Giving Women a New Start and a Second Chance For the women at Titus 3 House, it isn’t just a place to stay, it’s a home. It’s also an opportunity for a new start and a second chance.

When Jane (not her real name) came out of prison, she had no possessions beyond a small backpack. She had undergone drug rehab in prison, but could not return to the community of friends that had sent her life into a downward spiral of drug addiction. She needed a fresh start, an opportunity to pick up the pieces and build a future for herself. She was fortunate to have a place at Titus 3 House in Dallas. “It’s really a great place to get your bearings,” she explains. “It’s comforting to come here because it’s like a home.”

P.J. Johnson established Titus 3 in 2010, filling an unmet gap for

transitional housing for women in the community. These women may come

from prison or jail, or are referred by the Department of Human Services

because of drug addiction. Unlike other shelters which typically allow

women to stay 30 days, women can stay at Titus 3 House for up to a year.

According to Johnson, the longer timeframe is significant, because it

allows the women to get established in a safe and secure environment. They can get the drug treatment they need, pursue education, employment and find stable housing. “I am such a believer in second chances,” she says. Starting with nothing – no basic toiletries, no money, just the clothes on your back – it is no simple task to lift oneself up. The typical food stamp allocation these women receive is $189 a month. They may owe fines.

They have to pay for transportation to and from appointments, school and employment. The financial realities mean these women must find gainful employment in a relatively short time frame. Their choices may be limited by lack of education or training, having a felony on their record, and proximity or availability of transportation. It’s an uphill battle. But thanks to the Titus 3 program, they have a home, a solid base from which to start. Until they have resources to pay the $300 monthly “bed fee”, their portion of rent, it is covered by several local sources such as the Department of Human Services, Dallas Ministerial Association and community churches.

Though each woman is responsible for her own food preparation, the women live communally, sharing house duties. Often they work together on meals. The house is kept meticulously clean, both inside and out. Everyone at the house maintains a structured schedule. Following breakfast each day, they write out their daily plan, a skill that will help them stay focused and task-oriented as they transition back into the community. A house manager lives onsite, ensuring curfew and other house rules are being followed. The bed fees only cover half the cost to operate the house. The balance comes from fundraising, donations from the community and the support of local churches. One of the organization’s big needs was the replacement of worn, old, and very tired mattresses. With a Dallas Community Foundation grant, five new mattresses have been purchased. Johnson explains, “You have no idea what a blessing the grant was. All of the mattresses were

second-hand when we got them five years ago. The girls were constantly telling me how they couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. ‘It’s so lumpy!’ they would say. I prayed for those mattresses...and the DCF grant came.” Since her release and time spent at Titus 3, Jane has a new lease on life. She is away from her previous social group, and is rebuilding the trust and relationship with her family, something that was lost when she turned to drugs. She is near the end of her drug treatment program and proudly states she has been drug-free for 18 months. She has a local job and pays her own bed fee at the house. She will study horticulture this fall at Chemeketa Community College. The house garden has been a great outlet for her to pursue her love of plants, gardening, and fresh produce. DCF is pleased to support Titus 3, assisting women like Jane successfully transition to productive, responsible,drug-free and law-abiding members of the community.

Titus 3 House 
693 SW Church St.
 Dallas, OR 97338

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