Guest House Expands Services with Additional Residence in Alexandria

Guest House Expands Services with Additional Residence in Alexandria

Historic building renovated as Guest House 2 for formerly incarcerated non-violent women.

Historic building renovated as Guest House 2 for formerly incarcerated non-violent women. Photo contributed

Friends of Guest House opened a new residential facility on Payne Street in a historic Old Town Alexandria office building renovated by HomeAid Northern Virginia (HANV). This new facility will allow twenty formerly incarcerated women to move from their apartments into a transitional housing residence with accompanying support services. This supplements a residential Guest House facility for nine that has successfully operated on Luray Street for 45 years.

Guest House is a residential program for recently incarcerated non-violent women offenders to help them successfully reenter the community. Kari Galloway, Executive Director of Friends of Guest House, says if a person completes the program, the recidivism rate is less than 15 percent.

Jennifer Watson just moved into Guest House on Oct. 4. "I'm proud beyond belief. This is a 200-year-old building but with every convenience. It's four floors of old brick with brand new paint and the old fireplaces." She says her room is bright and airy with a vaulted ceiling and tract lighting. "I'm so grateful."

Guest House helps women to avoid the revolving door of prison and homelessness by providing secure housing, job training, and other support services as part of its six-month residential program followed by an Aftercare program for up to two years. Galloway says, "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 for the first time that they themselves deserve to live in a beautiful space."

Friends of Guest House worked with HomeAid Northern Virginia, which brings together local non-profit service providers with the local homebuilder community to build and renovate homeless shelters, housing facilities and community spaces for programs serving the homeless. Formerly incarcerated people are almost ten times more likely to be homeless than the general public.

HomeAid Northern Virginia worked with its builder captain Craftmark Homes to reinvent the property with ten bedrooms, a communal kitchen, 6 retrofitted bathrooms as well as redesigned space for case managers and workspaces while maintaining the historic character of the building. Shelley Ducker, spokesperson for HomeAid Northern Virginia says, "This project took longer than expected once we got into the bones of the project with an 1811 building and the need for ADA compliance and rezoning."

Ducker explained, "Non-profits come to us when they need a new facility, renovation, upgrade roof and plumbing. We do the vetting with the builder to make sure who is doing it is not just housing but also wrap around services. Homelessness is more than housing." She said, "This is the ultimate collaboration, letting everyone do what they do best."

The number of women served has grown from an allotment of nine beds 14 years ago to 17 beds five years ago to 26 beds two years ago. The opening of the new facility will increase the bed allocation to 30 women. Galloway says this is due to the incredible support of the State Department of Corrections as well as the community and other supporters. Still the need is great, and Galloway says they receive 400 applications for these few slots.

Watson says, "Honesty I didn't think I needed a program like this." Watson says she is a former alcoholic with 16 years in the military and recently divorced. "I needed the structure and accountability. Everyone here makes you feel welcome. I can feel the benefits after just a week and a half. They work for the greater good."