Emma's House offers women safe place to live, and stay sober

Posted3/14/2020 7:00 AM

GARY, Ind. -- Tonya Johnson cuddled close her 1-month-old daughter, McKenzie, after picking her up from her bassinet.

McKenzie fussed a little but Johnson, a first-time mom, seemed to know instinctively how to soothe her baby by giving her a pacifier while standing in the doorway of the bedroom they share at Emma's House.


"I got out of jail in December, and she was born one month later," Johnson said.

Johnson, 30, had been a heavy drug user, even using heroin, when she found out she was six months pregnant with her daughter, she said.

Thanks to a referral from Lake County Court Administrated Alcohol and Drug Service, Johnson was given the opportunity to stay at Emma's House, a transition house for women.

Now Johnson has been clean and sober since her Dec. 12 move-in date and is grateful for a second chance, including a future that promises the possibility of a place to live and a place to work.

"Everything will fall into place. I changed everything for this girl," Johnson said, holding close her baby daughter.

It is for women like Johnson that Emma's House, a remodeled home at 616 Maryland St., was opened close to two years ago, Pastor Michael Pirtle said.

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Pirtle and his wife, Linda Pirtle, formed The City of Refuge Christian Church about 14 years ago, working with community partners of Northwest Indiana toward a common goal to end homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and poverty.

About 12 women can live in Emma's House at a time, but they must stay clean and sober while there or they can be removed, Pirtle said.

During the time the women are there, volunteers help them look for permanent housing and employment.

"This is not a homeless shelter. We're a recovery home," Pirtle said.

Emma's House relies on grants and donations, and at the beginning of the year it received a State Opioid Response Grant for $1.8 million, which helps assist with funds up to four months for one woman's room and board.

"Right now we have only had one referral to take advantage of it," Pirtle said.

That referral was for Mary Carmon, 50, who was referred to Emma's House on Jan. 13.


Carmon's early years included having a dad who was in prison and a mother who was an alcoholic and had psychological problems, she said.

"I was only 2," Carmon said.

Her baby brother was adopted, but Carmon was placed in area group homes after going through the foster care system.

Carmon became a ward of the state growing up in Northwest Indiana, lived in a domestic violence situation during which she received broken ribs and a fractured ankle, battled drug and alcohol addiction and served jail time.

"I made some terrible choices," Carmon said.

Carmon is convinced that this time around she will make it with the help she is receiving at Emma's House, including time spent at the Regional Mental Health Center in East Chicago.

"I needed to find a place to get back into recovery. It's rekindled my spiritual condition and has given me an opportunity to live my life over," Carmon said.

"I've been clean and sober for four months."

Emma's House was donated to the church by former Lake County Community Corrections Officer Roderick Threatt.

The house is named after his mother, Emma.

It took about three years to remodel; funding was an issue, and the project included redoing the plumbing, electric, insulation, roof, tuckpointing, foundation, drywall and exterior work.

The majority of the cost for the $80,000 remodeling work came from donations from church parishioners, Pirtle said.

The church was started in 2006 in the Pirtles' living room in Merrillville. The church has moved several times but is currently located in Portage.

Pirtle retired in 2004 from the U.S. Marines and was doing a sit-in at the Lake County courtroom when he said he was inspired.

"When I retired I just sat in the courtroom and observed the community needs and what was going on," Pirtle said.

'God just placed us in the middle of where the real need was.'


Source: The Times

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