Magazine article Insight on the News

Chicago's House of Hope Rescues Women from City's Mean Streets

Magazine article Insight on the News

Chicago's House of Hope Rescues Women from City's Mean Streets

Article excerpt

For less than $10 a day, Sister Connie Driscoll can take a drug addict and turn her into a productive member of society. Sister Connie's secret to success: no government funds, lots of faith and determination.

China White is now the drug of choice on the streets," says Sister Connie Driscoll, a 63-years-old Missionary Sister of the Poor. "It is a very powerful brand of heroin. It's 60 percent pure. It can be an absolute killer. When you see people coming off China White you never want to see it again. Their bed shakes. But once they come off, they have scared themselves out of it."

Sister Connie has seen more drug-addicted women come down from that high than she can remember. As head of St. Martin de Porres House of Hope, a rehabilitation center in Chicago, Driscoll claims to have helped turn around the lives of thousands of women and their children -- without a nickel of government funds.

This hands-off attitude toward federal funding contrasts with the posture of many urban churches, which often spend as much energy defending welfare bureaucracies as caring for the needy. "We're not in favor of handing out a bag of food, patting them on the back, making the sign of the cross and saying, `Go on,'" says Sister Connie. "That is not our way."

Rather, Sister Connie -- along with her colleague, Sister Therese, and 13 lay workers -- try to instill personal accountability and responsibility in the women they work with on a daily basis. About 85 percent of the homeless are drug abusers, according to Sister Connie. Women who come to the center must forswear drugs and endure a strict regimen that begins at 6 a.m. Cursing is forbidden. They enter mandatory drug-counseling programs and a high-school equivalency program run by a neighboring Roman Catholic academy. And they are compelled to save 80 percent of their welfare benefits, so they have money to get off the dole.

After this basic training is completed, the women learn job skills such as word processing, as well as job survival skills. …

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