Self-Help Center buys Ivy House
Mitchell James helps move a copy machine into the Self-Help Center's new location at the Old Ivy House Inn on Wednesday. The center, which had been renting at its previous location on the Life Steps Campus, decided to move after the city raised the rent to nearly $40,000 a year. (Kerry Huller/Star-Tribune)

The legendary Ivy House bed-and-breakfast this week became a heaven for women whose lives have been dragged through hell.

The Self-Help Center moved Turning Point, its transitional housing for victims of domestic violence, from the Life Steps Campus on 12th Street to the Cape Cod-style inn on the 800 block of South Ash Street.

Besides the furniture, appliances, food and personal effects, the residents moved both across town and up a level of dignity.

"The idea for the transitional housing is to provide a family atmosphere," said Liz Baron, director of the Self-Help Center.

Turning Point was the brainchild of Dee Belz, who in 1999 set up the program with a 12-bedroom building at the Life Steps Campus, which is owned by the city of Casper. The campus is the location of the former Wyoming Youth Treatment Center.

Belz also directs the Self-Help Center's separate emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children who are in immediate danger.

The Turning Point was designed to provide the next step after the immediate crisis had passed.

The city leased the building for about $25,000 a year then, and it had some benefits such as its proximity to Health Care for the Homeless and other social service agencies at the campus.

But the lease rates continued to rise, Baron said.

In 2002, the Self-Help Center tried to buy a house near Casper College, but the city's planning and zoning commission denied a conditional use permit for the transitional housing because of zoning issues.

Last May, Baron and the center's board of directors heard the lease would cost nearly $40,000 a year, she said. "That's when the board said, 'We've go to (move).'"

Meanwhile, she learned the owners of the Ivy House Inn, Tom and Kathy Johnson, wanted to sell the building.

After some convoluted negotiations, the Self-Help Center closed the deal for $240,000 and began preparing to move, Baron said.

The building's construction -- anchored with a poured concrete foundation -- began in 1916, and reached its completion in the 1940s with its grand porches.

The inn had multiple and frequent owners, the most famous of whom were W. Frank White and Rhea White, who operated the house for Mormon missionaries, according to the lore and legends Baron has learned.

Frank White died in 1957.

Rhea White, who exercised strict discipline, died in 1995, but apparently didn't go away.

Since then, the Johnsons experienced paranormal events including apparitions of people, doors mysteriously opening and closing, and items moving for no reason.

If anything, Baron said that adds to the charm of having a home.

Ivy House is close to shopping, schools, parks, the bus route, social service organizations such as Mercer House, and the offices of Interfaith and the Self-Help Center in the Salvation Army's building at 441 S. Center St.

Despite its residential location, it will offer more security than the Life Steps Campus.

Ivy House offers about the same living space for about 23 residents as before, but it has the amenities and comfort of a bed-and-breakfast that charged between $70 and $115 a night for charming rooms with rustic, Art Deco and other themes, plus a landscaped backyard with flowers and fountains.

Best of all, the Self-Help Center holds the title and no longer throws its money down the rat hole of rent, Baron said.

One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, was among the others who moved Wednesday from the Life Steps Campus.

"It's more homey, it's more cozy," she said. "There's more of a sense of home, not institutional."

She was married for 25 years, divorced, and left and returned and left again an abusive relationship that left her destitute.

She has experience in retail sales, assembly line work and warehousing, but the job market is making it tough to find a place of her own, she added.

"I'm probably going to be here a year; I was hoping for six months," she said.

She and the other residents cook, clean and perform other housekeeping duties, she said.

"You've got to pitch in," she said. "It's a sense of pride of your own home."

Reach Tom Morton at (307) 266-0592, or at tom.morton@trib.com. Read his blog at tribtown.trib.com/TomMorton/blog.

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