Oct. 10, 2019 – Alexandria, Va. – Twenty formerly incarcerated women moved into a renovated home in Old Town Alexandria this week to re-enter the community and re-start their lives at Friends of Guest House’s newly opened residential re-entry program. Guest House helps women to avoid the “revolving door” of prison and homelessness by providing secure housing, job training and other support services to women recently released from incarceration as part of its six month residential program.
Formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.
Women face unique challenges when leaving prison, as many do not have a safe place to return to. “The vast majority of our residents experienced domestic violence, parental abuse, or sexual assault before they ever went to prison,” said Friends of Guest House executive director Kari Galloway. “When they get released, they don’t want to return to those situations. They want to avoid that. But if they don’t have a home to return to, they can end up on the streets, and then back into the prison system. We offer a second chance and new beginning.”
Your past does not define your future: For people and for buildings
When Guest House sought to expand its program by converting a historic (circa 1811) Old Town Alexandria office building into a transitional housing residence, it approached HomeAid Northern Virginia for assistance. HomeAid Northern Virginia builds and renovates homeless shelters and supportive housing facilities via the donated expertise, labor and resources of local homebuilders – enabling organizations such as Friends of Guest House to focus their budgets and resources on supportive programs and services rather than building expenses.
Friends of Guest House’s mantra is “We believe your past does not define your future.” This same mantra was adopted by HANV and its project “builder captain” Craftmark Homes to reimagine and reinvent the property as a residential hub, while staying true to its historic nature. The HomeAid/Craftmark Homes teams converted office space into bedrooms, created a communal kitchen and dining room, retrofitted bathrooms, added laundry space and incorporated offices and workspaces for on-site staff and case managers. Between in-kind and financial donations from HomeAid, Craftmark, and trade partners, Friends of Guest House saved over 70% off the $480K retail value of the project. FOGH received a zero interest loan from the City of Alexandria Housing Trust Fund for the remaining costs.
Move In Day
Residents moved in to the now-10 bedroom, 6 bathroom property in early October, launching a whole new future for themselves, and for the historic building.
“It is so special for the women in our program to move into a beautiful and newly upgraded residence like this. It helps them to feel, sometimes for the first time, that they themselves deserve to live in a beautiful space. It really reinforces to them that they are in the next chapter of their story. It reinforces to them their responsibilities to themselves and to the program. When you live in a space that is beautiful, you have to maintain it. You have to put in the work – both in this house and in their lives, inside and out. HomeAid and Craftmark truly created a beautiful space to serve as a launch pad for new beginnings,” said Guest House’s Kari Galloway.
Friends of Guest House has been helping women re-enter life after prison for 45 years and considers the Alexandria community to be incredibly encouraging and supportive of its mission. The original FOGH home still houses 10 women in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood. Prior to the opening of the new residence in Old Town, FOGH also housed 16 women in four apartments. These women are moving into the new home, and with the expanded space, four new slots in the residential program have been added – a 15% growth in the number of women it can serve – a meaningful difference, and yet still not enough. With the rotation of women in and out of the 6 month residential program, FOGH serves approximately 60 women per year. For those 60 slots, the organization receives more than 400 applications.
“Homelessness among recently released individuals is a preventable problem – and a fixable problem – thanks to organizations like Friends of Guest House that provide both housing and wrap-around support in their local communities,” said Kristyn Burr, Executive Director of HomeAid Northern Virginia. “Individuals released from incarceration have a higher likelihood of becoming homeless and those who are homeless are more likely to be incarcerated – contributing to recidivism. Being proactive and supportive of women and men coming out of adult detention centers and/or prison is an important part of solutions to prevent homelessness, a shared goal of HANV and Guest House.”
HomeAid Northern Virginia brings together local non-profit service providers with the local homebuilder community to build/renovate homeless shelters, housing facilities and community spaces for programs serving the homeless. These collaborative partnerships enable homebuilders to do what they do best (build) and service providers to do what they do best (provide housing and wraparound services). HANV has completed 143 construction projects that together have served as a safe and stable space for more than 138,000 vulnerable individuals in our community.