Guest House Balances Serving Clients with Protection of Health in Alexandria

Kari Galloway walks in the door of Guest House and has her temperature taken, just like she does every day. “We closed off Guest House right away when they announced the pandemic; women at Guest House couldn’t move in the community.” Galloway, Executive Director of Friends of Guest House says, “We had 30 in the program. Now we are down to 25 with three more leaving tomorrow. I expect it to get down to 20, 10 in each place.” Guest House is a residential facility that helps women successfully reenter the community from incarceration.

Galloway says Guest House recently made an exception to give six women early successful completion from the program so they can keep working.

Between the 24/7 staff at the two Guest House locations, they have over 30 employees, some part-time. Most of them aren’t able to work remotely. She says it’s a little scary that they have so many people coming and going every day.

Galloway goes in every day “because it is important for the women to see me, to normalize the situation. It shows the women they are important. And,” she adds, “it’s important to the staff for me to be part of the team.” She says she can’t say enough good things about the staff. “They could say ‘I don’t want to work and expose my family’ but they don’t.”

Guest House is graduating some of the clients from their program early in order to keep the remaining women safe. “We take all of the precautions but we don’t have a separate quarantine facility here. We’re just not set up like that.” They are using cleaning supplies judiciously but Personal Protective Equipment has been on backorder for a month.

Normally, when a woman gets a successful completion from the program, her spot is filled by another applicant, and Guest House has been at 97 percent capacity.

Galloway says they get 400 applications a year for their 30 slots.

But Guest House isn’t taking new people in, just as the Department of Corrections is not allowing transfers between prisons or jails since the coronavirus outbreak in a medium security prison. “We got our last new person at Guest House March 13.”

Galloway says, “What breaks my heart is that all of the women due to come in can’t. They have to wait in jail or at their home; hopefully it is safe.”

In order to keep things as regular as possible for the women who are inside all day, the daily Workforce and Development classes have been offered virtually ”so women could have the same schedule day to day.” Galloway says it was challenging getting a facilitator and rebuilding the program. But

people have volunteered to lead meetings, as well as offer therapy to do some coping plans and and a couple of people to be temporary sponsors for AA.

In addition, they have the usual classes once a week sponsored by Jane Collins’ organization, HEARD, which was set up to foster creativity, confidence and self worth in the marginalized, underserved, unheard. Last year HEARD offered 176 in-person classes to a number of organizations including Guest House. Galloway says,” it is a phenomenal program.”

Collins says they have been able to continue with two virtual classes at Guest House including improvisation taught once a week. This class is taught by a woman actively involved with the Little Theatre of Alexandria. Poetry is taught by the former poet laureate of Alexandria using poetry therapy. “These women at Guest House are so engaged. They want to share; we give them a chance to be heard and we publish their work. There is so much creativity.”

Galloway says, “Some women are doing better than others. Some are really upset because they can’t work. We’re not letting people get new jobs right now.” She says several employees have lost their jobs at restaurants, one at Good Will and others at doggie day care places. “Hopefully they can get unemployment. The application process has been a lot easier so far than I thought it would be.” In addition, Galloway is currently filling out application forms for the recently enacted Payment Protection Program allowing small business to apply for a loan to cover payroll costs.

Guest House gets about two-thirds of its funding through the Virginia State Department of Corrections. Galloway says their revenue stream has been greatly interrupted by having their residents reduced by nearly 1/3 with no new residents coming in and others leaving early to continue working and not infect the rest of the residents.

She said they have tried to maintain all of their staff to date but it’s tough.

Galloway says some local donors have really stepped up and along with grants from ACT for Alexandria and Arlington Community Foundation, they have been able to make the tough decisions for now.

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