A new home can take some getting used to — in more ways than one.
“It’s hard to believe this is mine,” said Lauren Henderson, a single mother of two daughters, as she stacked some canned food into cabinets this past weekend at her new apartment at Walton Summit, a mixed-income housing development off E.E. Butler Parkway in Gainesville. “It feels weird to be here.”
Adjusting to the place was a surreal experience for Henderson, but it was also an honest-to-goodness settling in.
Her youngest daughter, Honest, has autism, though at 2 years old plays as happy and rambunctiously as any other girl her age.
Still, it’s important to let her get acquainted and comfortable first, Henderson said.
“I’m letting her warm up to it,” she added.
So while the furniture has arrived, the beds are in their rooms, the food and dishes put away, Henderson and her daughters decided to move in over the course of a few days, continuing to stay with Henderson’s mother, Carol, overnight.
There’s also the work that remains to have cabinets and doors child-protected to keep Honest from endangering herself.
Henderson’s family was among the few chosen for one of 13 available public housing units in the first phase of the redeveloped block of the former Green Hunter Homes on Atlanta Street.
They’re also one of the first families to move in, and the place offers a fresh beginning.
“This is a family type of place,” Henderson said.
The Gainesville Housing Authority has partnered with Walton Communities LLC, which has developed similar housing projects in other Georgia cities, to build the mixed-income property over three phases with millions of dollars in state tax credits.
The Housing Authority remains the owner of the land, and all interests will revert to it after 15 years.
More than 200 units will ultimately replace the Green Hunter Homes, a 131-unit public housing development built in the 1950s.
Residences developed in the second phase of Walton Summit will be exclusively for residents 55 and older.
Property manager Katie McMahon said last month that the leasing process for this phase would open late this year and include an additional 13 public housing apartments.
Henderson has stressed in recent months about her family’s housing needs, even after hearing that she was selected for a unit at Walton Summit.
But she’s steadied herself by working hard to qualify for the home and continuing to address Honest’s medical needs.
A big help has come from Grace, her 12-year-old daughter, who is remarkably responsible and caring for Honest, as has been Henderson’s mother.
Grace, fortunately, will not have to change schools as a result of the move, and she said she’s already warming up to the place — which has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a laundry area, kitchen with all appliances and access to a fitness area, community room and other amenities to come.
“It’s really nice,” Grace said.
The family received generous support from a ministry at St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville that had collected and stored donations for Henderson over the last month or so.
“We go out, we help people with food, prayer, furniture, help them pay their rent or utilities,” said Joanne Capies, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. “It’s just heartwarming to know that we’ve got them settled and they’re happy and the children are placed with their family.”
Jack Capies, who serves as program director, said this kind of outreach, which the couple has done for years in Gainesville and a lifetime elsewhere, is as hands-on as it gets.
“We get calls from people who are downsizing,” he said. “We can go pick up a whole house or apartment full of furniture. Sometimes we deliver it to someone in need that day.”
That can include beds, dressers, couches, tables, dishes and utensils — you name it.
“When somebody needs something, we have it,” Jack Capies said.
Joanne Capies said she has seen a lot of new starts for families over the years, from those who were living in cars or shelters, storage units, hotels or on the streets.
“I hope they get to be self-sufficient,” she said.
Henderson said her new start was a blessing and has her focused on family and faith.
“There’s only so much you can do for somebody,” she said, thinking of her own desire to grow independently. “I’ve just been so stubborn.”
“But you’re moving forward now,” Joanne Capies said. “Don’t look back.”
“I won’t,” Henderson said.