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Lotus House

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Lotus House

A conversation with Constance Collins

In 2006, the Sundari Foundation (known as Lotus House Women's Shelter) established its first facility to address homeless women in Overtown, Miami. Lotus House provides shelter and supportive services, including primary medical and mental health care, dental and eye care, and diverse counseling and training programs. A national leader in addressing the needs of homeless women and children, it is the largest women's shelter in the United States. Lotus House constitutes a refuge from the despair of homelessness and the threat of domestic violence to more than 500 women and children daily; it offers solutions to the cycle of suffering they endured. In 2021, under the Lotus House Endowment Fund, the Lotus Village –a national prototype– became a reality; it includes a holistic neighborhood health clinic with shelters to accommodate special needs individuals and families. It is also an advocacy center for public and social policies to raise awareness of the homelessness experienced by women and children on a local, state, and national level.

Constance Collins, a Lotus House's founder, has served as president and executive director of the Sundari Foundation since 2004. Before joining Lotus House Women's Shelter, she practiced law. On this issue dedicated to women, Beaches of Miami interviewed Ms. Collins.

What led you to devote yourself full-time to Lotus House?

Supporting, empowering, and uplifting women, youth, and children experiencing homelessness has become a true calling for me. To be honest, I set out to establish a resource center for women, and it has surpassed my imagination. We recently celebrated over 9,000 women and children sheltered by Lotus House. Many personal stories shared by the women, youth, and children we have been blessed to serve over the past eighteen years have inspired me. I grieve deeply at the violence and trauma they have experienced, the disparities, inequities, and lack of opportunities and resources. I am in awe of their perseverance and resilience, the unfailing hope for a better life for themselves and their children. I want to be in service and part of the solution, knowing we are one –not in some vague theoretical sense– but truly we fall or rise as one.

What is the protocol for accepting a woman to the shelter?

Lotus House has a "no wrong door" policy. Women, youth, and children arrive almost daily via Lotus House direct street outreach, Miami-Dade County's Homeless Trust Outreach teams, the County's homeless assistance hotline list, and referrals from the public school system, local law enforcement, domestic violence centers, and many other agencies across the county working with women and children. Lotus House is also a direct access point for victims of domestic violence and youth, allowing us to bring them into the shelter as self-referrals. Outreach is coordinated by alumnae of Lotus House, former program participants of our programming and support, and experienced mental health professionals and victims' advocates.

Do you follow a vetting process?

Upon arriving at Lotus House, women, youth, and children are welcomed with a trauma-informed, needs assessment admission process by our Intake Director, a licensed mental health counselor experienced in supporting victims of domestic violence. Through that process, our teams (clinical, health and wellness, education and employment, programming, and children's services) work together to provide a holistic, multi-faceted, wrap-around support system that is person-centered, empowering, and tailored to their needs and those of their children. We strive to be welcoming and inclusive, knowing they have endured much before coming through our doors.


Is there a time limit for a stay at the shelter?

While the average stay for women and children ranges between 6-8 months, our program model is solution-focused, designed to provide education, services, tools, and resources that assist each woman, youth, and child to heal, grow, thrive, and build the foundation for a safer, brighter future. We recognize that each action plan of those entering Lotus House will be different and focused on providing therapeutic, person-centered supports and resources for their individual unique needs. With that in mind, we understand that despite our average length of stay, there are some who may require more profound and extended support. For example, an unaccompanied female of high school age who joins us in her junior year may stay with us until she graduates and transitions to college or secures vocational training and employment. 80% of the sheltered women, youth, and children successfully exit the shelter system

Is there a limit to the number of children per family or an age limit for children to stay with their moms?

There are no limits on the number of children accompanying mom if we have the bed capacity available, and there is no age limit for children staying with mom at Lotus House, understanding that all guests must follow Lotus House policies and that children are enrolled and attending school.

How has The Farm at Lotus House impacted the shelter's women's and children's lives?

The Farm, a hi-tech self-contained hydroponic urban garden, provides a uniquely therapeutic and educational environment, including seed-to-harvest and farm-to-table educational programs. Participating women and children learn the basics of hydroponic gardening, including harvesting, transplanting, seeding, food safety, maintenance, and crop care, then deliver the 100% organic produce to our culinary center in Lotus Village, where it is served in the daily salad bar at lunch and dinner.

Are all women in the shelter trained to prepare healthier food?

All sheltered women and children receive three healthy and nutritious meals daily, made fresh in our culinary center at Lotus Village. For those interested in participating, nutrition classes, cooking classes, and other programming are offered throughout the week, yielding a high engagement from women, youth, and children. For those who desire a culinary career, Lotus House offers a program leading to Safe Food Handler certifications from the state of Florida followed by an on-site, paid internship program in the David and Leila Centner Foundation Culinary Center at Lotus Village, dispensing deeper instruction and hands-on experience in a busy professional kitchen.

What are some of the most important lessons learned since 2004?

Solutions to the pressing public health issues of our time, such as homelessness, may be found through innovation, evidence-based best practices, and people coming together at all levels of government, philanthropy, business, non-profits, and community to create change. Lotus Village is a living example of these lessons learned. With deep therapeutic support and protective factors, Lotus Village serves as a model, setting a new standard on a national level, showcasing evidence-based, best practices that end and prevent homelessness, while putting children first. It takes a village!

What would you have changed to make the shelter even more successful?

When the new state of the art facilities in Lotus Village were developed, we concentrated on maximizing our capacity to shelter as many as possible because the need was and is so great. Since then, we have recognized the importance of allocating more space for education, programming, supportive services, and operations support. We are planning the development of a new project, affectionately named the Children's Village at Lotus Village, with the recent acquisition of additional land across from Lotus Village. It will complement and expand the enriched holistic environment and services offered at Lotus Village, while serving as an innovative new neighborhood resource center with expanded educational and therapeutic supports, diverse programming and community services and resources to support the children, youth, and families of our beloved Overtown neighborhood and surrounding area. The new project will also include our long-awaited playground!

At what stage is the Children's Village project currently?

The Children's Village is being sponsored by Lotus Endowment Fund, Inc. via its development subsidiary. They are completing the land acquisition and preliminary plans are already underway. We hope the project will break ground this fall with a view toward occupancy in the Fall 2023. We are asking our community to support this important project for the future of our children and urge anyone who can help to contact me –

What other projects are you working on now?

In addition to the construction, development, and capital campaign for the Children's Village, we are leading an initiative for a new comprehensive national network of women's shelters. A web-based information sharing platform has been created at I am personally traveling to and meeting with shelters across the country to help build this important initiative to raise public awareness and resources addressing the needs of women and children experiencing homelessness and the shelters who serve them. In addition to helping build the organizational capacity for these life-saving shelters, The National Women's Shelter Network will be an important information-sharing tool on best practices and innovation. As the largest women's shelter in the nation, it is appropriate that Lotus House lead the way for women and children in the fight to end homelessness. Together we are stronger.

  • Constsnce Collins
  • Lotus House