When Ashlee Erickson got out of jail a couple of weeks ago, she had only the shorts and top she wore the day she was arrested last summer.
There to greet her at Geiger Corrections Center, with jeans and a warm sweater to wear, was Marcel Smith, who brought Erickson home to a West Central neighborhood refuge for troubled women.
“I’ve been there,” said Smith, 42, housemother for the Lighthouse of Hope, a transitional home for women founded by the Off-Broadway Family Outreach urban ministry.
“God’s using my past to point other people in the right direction,” she said. “I’ve been homeless, I’ve been involved in drugs. I know what people are going through.”
Erickson, 25, was released from Geiger this month after pleading guilty to burglary, theft and trafficking in stolen property – crimes she committed to feed a heroin addiction.
A first-time offender, she spent 90 days in jail before she was sentenced in Spokane County Superior Court to time served plus two years probation.
While at Lighthouse she will be expected to follow house rules that prohibit substance abuse, and she intends to undergo counseling for her drug problem.
Erickson also will assist Smith in distributing food gleaned from local grocery stores to low-income residents of the West Central neighborhood.
Smith has lived at Lighthouse since 2008, when she was rescued from homelessness by an Off-Broadway member who put her up in a North Division motel for a time.
Later, the ministry found Smith a rental home in disrepair on West Sharp Avenue and helped restore it.
Since then, Lighthouse for Hope has been home to more than 30 women, most of whom were able to salvage lives previously filled with addiction, crime and homelessness, Smith said.
“I talk with them with love,” Smith said. “I tell them about where I’ve been and what I’ve been through. I try to get them in treatment.”
The home can accommodate up to nine women. Those who can help pay rent. When they can’t, Off-Broadway has managed to make up the difference, Smith said.
During the past couple of years, Smith has forged relationships with other women’s shelters and social service agencies to get her housemates the help they need.
But what they need most, she said, is to be treated with dignity and respect.
“There have been failures along the way, but most are success stories,” Smith said.
She tells them that, like hers, their drug use and homelessness were caused by choices they made in their lives; now they have to choose another path.
“They have to want it,” Smith said. “It’s not going to work unless they are ready for it.”