Mary’s House &

the Pope Francis House


By Lila Mills, Neighborhood Voice  Editor

HOUGH – Janice Chambers was angry when she heard about the bodies of 11 women found at the Imperial Avenue home of Anthony Sowell. She thought and she prayed, then she turned her anger into action.

“You couldn’t kill that many dogs or cats without people taking notice,” Chambers said recently.  “I wanted to give women in this neighborhood a safe place.”

    She turned her attention to an abandoned house on East 79th Street across from Urban Minority Alcoholism Drug Abuse Outreach Project, more commonly known as UMADOAP, where she works. Chambers, who grew up in Hough and East Cleveland, thought the house would be a perfect place for Mary’s House, a safe house for women in need. It would be a place where women struggling with addiction or mental illness could eat a meal, shower, attend counseling and get information about services if they want it, Chambers said.

    The only problem? Chambers knew nothing about home renovation and she did not have any money to fund the project. In February, she and co-worker Marilyn Scott started making calls looking for help.

    Since then, they have found dozens of businesses and people, from professional contractors to local residents, who want to help. Among the donations they have received are: vinyl siding from C-Town Construction, of Highland Heights; a furnace and central air unit from Ferguson Heating and Cooling, of Streetsboro; installation of those units by A New Image Heating and Cooling, of Warrensville Heights; and a solar roof from Yellow Lite, of Independence. Today’s Business Products, of Cleveland, plans to donate a conference table and chairs; and Snow Bros. Appliance Co., of Lyndhurst, plans to donate appliances.

    “I want women in the community to know that they can resurrect themselves just like we are doing with this house,” Chambers said.

    Chambers knows about hard luck. Her family struggled with drugs and anger for years.

    “You cut the turkey (on Thanksgiving) and you knew, ‘Put the knives up, girl’ because people were going to fight,” Chamber said.

    But her family has turned itself around. She proudly talks about her own resurrection and the sobriety of her siblings.

    The grand opening of Mary’s House is scheduled for spring 2012.

    Want to help? To volunteer, call Cleveland UMADOAP at 216-361-2040. Tax-deductible donations can still be made to the project at any branch of Fifth Third Federal Bank or by mailing a donation to Cleveland UMADOAP/Mary’s House, 1215 E. 79th St., Cleveland, 44103.


One of the Habitat crews learned about the story of Mary’s House and other crews have joined in over the 2011 year.  As the far left photo shows, it is a house in need of much repair.  Among other things, the foundation was falling in on the south side, was repaired once, caved in again with the record rainfalls of 2011, repaired again, and then as evidenced in the photo on the far right, virtually entirely replaced instead of patching the repairs again.  It was good to descend the steep narrow stairs into the basement and not see a pile of bricks, mud, and water.  It was finally safe to install the water heater and the furnace.

Many teams working together

The stairs to the second floor aren’t quite as steep, but a railing would be helpful coming down as they are narrow.  They certainly don’t meet current code, but if you don’t touch them to restore or renovate, then you don’t have to meet current code.

Above, far left, looking through a closet into the front area of the second floor. Middle, upstairs bathroom.  Right, looking front to back.

Left, old linoleum before luan layer is nailed on to prepare for new flooring.  Right, bath and shower fixtures.

Left, coming in front door; hallway on right leads straight to kitchen; diagonal door on left leads into large meeting area currently serving as our workroom.  Below, the door in the background will be a private interview room.

Don staples on plastic covering that further protects against moisture.

Janice has received a lot of donated labor and materials, but as such, is at the mercy of their schedules.  Progress is slow.

Trying to hang a straight door onto an uneven floor is beyond frustrating.

Kitchen getting closer to being finished.

Bathroom needed several angles of drywall, as it was carved out of the addition to the back of the house, which had to be majorly reinforced.

Upstairs front room; main floor living room used as our work area

Stairs from upstairs coming down.

    In the spring of 2015, Habitat bought numerous sites in the West 50+ area, naming them The Stockyards.

    In May, our time was assigned to the Pope Francis House, particularly named through its anonymous out-of-state donor of nearly $50,000.  Donor specifically chose that house and designated the money for its rehabbing and remodeling. Address is on W. 52nd.

    Everything about that house screamed HELP.  The basement was a horror, the foundation and walls seriously questionable, and the second floor had virtually no headroom without adding on to the side walls to move the roof up.  There was no partner family interested in it, and neither were there any plans from GCHFH on how and where to remodel it.  It had those crazy skinny-width stairs in the back of the house, where indoor plumbing had been added after it was originally built.  The only bath was in the back of the house on the first floor, and the dimensions and pitch of the house did not allow for plumbing on the second floor.  A new stairwell was a must, but the house literally was not wide enough to allow stairs that met current codes; obviously, adjustments had to be made.  Luckily, someone from another team knew how to create a new stairwell, as Willie, our former guru, was no longer with us.

    Our team leader kept begging for help and guidance, all in vain. Since it was summer, we worked on the outside, choosing the siding color based on surrounding houses, cleaning up the back yard, creating a small back deck for a rear entry to the kitchen area, and repairing/replacing the front porch and steps. We gutted what we could on the inside, but had no instructions of what walls to leave or what new ones to add where.  We worked countless times without the supplies we had requested, sometimes even without electricity, happy that a neighbor across the street allowed us to plug in off his front porch.

    Eventually, the inevitable happened. The big brass came to the house, and long story short, our team leader quit and a longtime volunteer was suspended for two months, never to come back.  GCHFH shut down the house while it solved the foundation issues, and sent our team to another rehab, under the direction of another Habitat employee.  Another team was assigned to finish the house once the architectural issues got resolved, and eventually a family wanted it.  Dedication happened in December 2015.

The Pope Francis House, summer 2015

The original stairs, super steep, barely 5” deep!

The exterior from front to back.

The first floor, as far as we got with it.

The second floor, as far as we got with it.

The basement, from beginning to finished product.

Obviously, the front porch needed some MAJOR work.

    We volunteers go to “great lengths” to get our electricity, when GCHFH doesn’t deliver the requested generator or double-check that the house’s electricity got turned on over the weekend as promised.

Short one minute video of the finished Pope Francis House.

These four videos are @20 seconds each.