Founder's bio... Her story in her own words

Originally published November 23, 2022

Hi, my name is Kirsten VanderJagt and this is my story.

Both my mother and father were homeless while addicted to drugs and alcohol. My father was an adopted child and an army veteran. My mother was wild and my perception is that no one expected much of her. Recovery homes failed them both, with the exception of the last one for my father when he was in his 50s. If you would try to imagine walking through the local park and seeing your mother in the bushes, or your father huddled in the cold stairwell, and hurting for them, then you can almost understand my full motivation.

At the age of six, my parents got a divorce. Due to my mother’s lack of education, she was dependent upon others and a victim of domestic violence. This impacted our housing situation and left us kids with a perspective I wouldn't want to burden on any child. 

Because my parents moved so often, I went to a dozen schools. I went to four schools in sixth grade alone. When I was 12, I was placed in the care of my aunt. Living with my aunt was up and down but at least I had a warm bed and a cousin to confide in. My two brothers were rehomed at ages 13 and six to live with our grandmother. Unfortunately, I have no contact with my older brother.

Our mom died when my younger brother was 16. She was homeless and hit by a car. Soon after he dropped out of school and started drinking. Sometime later our father passed away and my little brother became homeless. He didn't have a unit to call his own or many fun sober friends in his daily life. He stayed in Oxford houses and leaderless homes until he was stabbed, while he was asleep. Human trafficking also came to light around this same time, which is too much to get into here.

You see, each shelter and each operator sets the tone for a home. The day-to-day of who is inside and their policies are important. The details matter. Does the operator let everyone in, despite their background, or do they consider the impact another person may have on the recovery of someone else? Who is the operator and what is their background? What is their code of ethics? Do they do a background check on volunteers and residents or are their houses intended for violent offenders? How long is their program? There are houses specifically designed for certain populations. 

As a loved one, you should ask a long list of questions and verify an operator's current shared housing insurance policy. Not a property insurance policy or a business insurance policy, but a policy that says they are allowed to operate an overnight clinic, shelter, or recovery home. What model or level of recovery home do they operate and is that a match for you or your loved one right now? Be sure the state business name matches the insurance. If they cannot send this to you within a day or two, there might be an issue. Do not send someone to live with untrained friends or family that lack sober commonality or structure. If you are even slightly worried, you should go get your ward immediately. They are worth it.

For people on drugs or alcohol, or living in unstable housing, it's common for them to have things stolen: their ID, phone, wallet, and keys; which is why over 60% of the homeless population choose to be unsheltered.

In 2021, my little brother started sleeping under bridges and it was hard for me to maintain communication. At one point, my little brother had been missing for months, and on one occasion I chased a homeless man across a busy 8-lane thoroughfare yelling my brothers' name and crying. Had I finally found him? I ran into the homeless encampment under a bridge next to the river and the man eventually turned around... it was not my little brother. My world was shattered.

In 2022, my little brother is in jail after getting drunk and moving someone else's bags out of their home in the night. He thought it was his previous apartment per the texts he sent while "moving out". I wonder if he had his proper eyeglasses on. In the Oxford model, it's common to be kicked out of a house with only 15 minutes to gather your bags. The repetition doesn't make what he did right. I was told he returned the bags and apologized but it is a felony nonetheless.

Seeing our father wither away over six months, due to lung and liver cancer was terrible. Luckily, he had his own place in his favorite city in his final days. I'm forever grateful to the Veterans Village of San Diego. I appreciate their ability to transition a person from recovery to permanent housing.

Doctors say, "You never get over the trauma, you just learn how to manage it."

For me, I had a home that helped me. From the age of six years old Katie's house was my refuge. Katie is my best friend to this day and she lived three streets over from my aunt. Anytime I was near her home you could probably find me there. Katie has several brothers and sisters so it was two to three beds in the room. Katie's father was a police officer and her mother is a creative hardworking catholic. They sheltered me and gave me what I needed, a compassionate and no-nonsense New Yorker home that left a different kind of impression. The house rules held us all accountable and I enjoyed the support. The laughter of the full house kept me present. It was a sober house by nature and honesty was the policy. You could call and ask for help, probably without judgment, but you better not be a knucklehead and waste your blessings too many times.

Katie M. and Kirsten VanderJagt pictured est. 1994-2022. All I can say about this collage is "Humans go through many stages. Nothing is permanent except for love."

Fast forward several years, in 2021, after a 20-year career in housing, banking, and finance I've gotten involved with nonprofit education and housing. In 2022, I founded Katie's House Foundation. We are using the NARR model to provide exceptional housing to teens, men, and women. We use this outstanding model to operate although our homes or affiliate homes are not always sober houses. Some shared houses, half-way houses, or boutique shelters, follow the same great operating standards but they do not require drug testing, because not everyone comes from a drug court or a background related to addiction; but sometimes abuse, negligence, lack of means, or coercion. 

Housing First is important for everyone, especially in preventing vulnerable situations for the meek, where addiction is not a factor. In some cases, the location of a house or boutique shelter does not lend itself to being a sober house. These houses then lend themselves to commonly straight-arrows who would otherwise be homeless and have no real ties to gangs, drugs, or alcohol.

I have a network of real estate investors, and my cousin has been improving homes in the Birmingham, AL, area since 2019. It made sense to tie everything together for the greatest community good, thereby offering shared homes to people who really need them. Our goal is to start in Alabama and then set up homes throughout the United States, keeping measurable impact and sustainability top of mind.

This is my 10th business and second nonprofit. In my first nonprofit, we taught free financial literacy to teenagers. Boy, was that an eye-opener. Without a well-to-do co-signer or grit and financial education, today's complicated financial system leaves people unable to qualify for their own housing, manage their hiccups, or understand financial paperwork. I have bought and sold businesses, and all of this is to say that I am confident God has called me to this mission.  My career, being married into a large sober family, and my own family history make me a skilled candidate for the tasks ahead.

I have a personal goal to fill vacant homes with people who are seeking peace and purpose. I have faith that each person who does better will ripple goodwill to others and there is no doubt in my mind that the majority of people who stay in our homes and graduate from our financial literacy program, will experience long-term upward mobility!

With hope and hard work,

Kirsten VanderJagt

Founder & Volunteer

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Carie B. and Kirsten VanderJagt pictured est. 2014 at a large bank. We've been working on serving those exiting abuse, homelessness, the justice or foster care systems, a hospital, or a drug and alcohol detox program since around 2014. Hear from Carie today, who was motivated by Kirsten to obtain her MBA and degree in clinical psychology:

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