D.C. Nonprofit launches housing program for returning citizens

A DC based nonprofit, “Who Speaks For Me?,” has launched a pilot housing initiative for five women and LGBTQ+ returning citizens

“Incarceration renders you homeless,” pronounced Taylar Nuevelle, founder of the nonprofit program Who Speaks For Me?: “for every moment you are in a halfway house, a jail, a prison, you are considered homeless.” 

Nuevelle, a returning citizen herself, founded Who Speaks For Me? (WSFM) to disrupt the Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline and assist returning citizens from marginalized communities in their reintegration into society. The organization announced the launch of its new pilot program, Housing For All, which will provide individual apartments to five returning women and LGBTQ+ citizens. WSFM seeks to aid returning citizens who are amongst groups that are disproportionately impacted by obstacles to housing.

In a press conference on Nov. 2, representatives from WSFM shared news of the program’s launch thanks to a grant from a private foundation. The program will begin this month, with WSFM funding the cost of five apartment rentals for a year. 

This launch is part of a broader five year plan, which consists of WSFM’s purchasing of four D.C. buildings, each containing six to eight units of housing to be allocated for free to returning citizens who are unable to pay. Others who are in the financial position to do so will pay a low fee. This housing will be permanent, and WSFM intends to expand the Housing For All program beyond DC in the long term. 

“Millions of people with conviction or arrest records are routinely denied access to a safe place to call home because of their involvement with the criminal-legal system.”

Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition

Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), delivered a report on the research that the Coalition has done on barriers to housing for justice-impacted people. Yentel explained that “millions of people with conviction or arrest records are routinely denied access to a safe place to call home because of their involvement with the criminal-legal system.” 

NLIHC has concluded that unless the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and Congress implement reforms for housing screening policies in addition to providing increased resources for accessible housing, increasing numbers of returning citizens will be left without access to housing due to nationwide efforts to reduce the prison population. 

Nuevelle reflected on her experience applying for a government housing voucher. She had been without permanent housing for a number of months, but it had not occurred to her until she was asked how long she had been homeless for that her time spent incarcerated also represented time she had spent without a home. In actuality, Nuevelle was homeless for five years. “When we are taking people and putting them in cages, there are so many collateral consequences,” she shared. 

The press conference included a panel discussion with returning citizens who have been impacted by the difficulty of finding housing. Some of the women had experienced difficulties with other housing programs, such as Kalynn Helton, a Local Facilitator for WSFM’s Sharing Our Stories Writing Group

Helton described her experiences with program facilitators going through her belongings as well as being housed with a roommate who was living in poor living conditions. Panelists also shared their experiences of substandard facilities within the Rapid Rehousing program. 

One panelist cited a lack of advocacy as a major issue facing returning citizens: “when you’re marginalized, those that have privilege will tell you that you should take whatever they give you.” Instead, WSFM wants to provide returning citizens with clean, independent living opportunities. 

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