REAL Housing supports Lifers that need a structured residential environment for recovery during their transition from incarceration, addiction, or homelessness to independent living and a Thriving Life.

REAL LIFE sets the highest standards of care to foster personal growth, develop a foundation for long term recovery, and improve the quality of life through delivering REAL LIFE’s 5 pillars of service.

Problem we are faced with

Many men and women seeking services from REAL LIFE are in crisis due to their housing situation. Sadly, a large portion of Lifers are homeless, bouncing from couch to couch, or living in a place that is not conducive to recovery (i.e. crack house). Obtaining employment or other milestones necessary for a Thriving Life is nearly impossible due to having no place to leave their personal belongings, to shower, eat, sleep, or even to wash clothes.

Unfortunately, we find the following housing crises among far too many clients:

  • Living on the street or places such as U-Haul’s or abandoned buildings
  • Pregnant women without housing
  • Women with children without housing or grossly inadequate housing
  • Lack of rental option that is affordable and with a landlord who will rent to someone with a criminal record or bad credit

Housing Situation as seen by REAL LIFE

The housing crisis can be viewed as two primary issues – “affordable housing” and “controlled environment housing” needed for recovery and transition to independent living.  Fortunately, several organizations are working for affordable housing.  The success of those efforts may be limited, but a lot of funding and work is being applied to affordable housing.

REAL LIFE will always extend help to Lifers needing affordable housing in a crisis, but the unique housing contribution for REAL LIFE is accommodating Lifers who need a controlled environment to recover and/or transition to independent living.

REAL LIFE Response (current)

While we work to get individuals in a housing crisis into affordable housing, options are significantly limited for those without income (which most Lifers do not have).  For those needing a controlled environment, there is often nothing we can do due to the shortage of this type housing that is safe, stable, and affordable.

As an initial response and desire to better serve Lifers, in 2017, REAL LIFE opened its first recovery transitional house in South Richmond. The house allowed men to move in rent-free, so their financial situation did not dictate whether they were able to have sober and structured living. This same model continues today.

In 2019, we opened a female recovery house, which operates in the same manner. This allows us to serve a limited number of men and women, due to number of beds currently available, who often have searched for years for recovery housing, but were unable to access the structured environment necessary for their recovery due to financial constraints.

Options for those needing Controlled Environment Housing

While REAL LIFE housing is an option for some Lifers, we are limited in serving only a small portion of the overall need due to space.  When REAL LIFE Pathway Navigators encounter Lifers needing controlled environment housing, income is an important factor in determining realistic next steps.

REAL Houses are the only free controlled environment houses in RVA.  The only other free option is a few scholarship/indigent beds available at partner Recovery Organizations.  If there is no income available for someone needing controlled environment housing, and REAL LIFE does not have a bed available, the likelihood of being housed within the next month is minimal.

Moving into 2020, REAL LIFE anticipates expanding housing options!

For those with adequate income, a few organizations offer controlled environment housing on a fee basis.

Options for those in crisis and needing Affordable Housing

If Lifers have income available and are ready for independent living, it will likely take over a month to secure a place to live.

A woman with a child(ren) could take several months to place in affordable housing. Currently, there are no open programs for women with child(ren) in RVA.  Therefore, if there is not a “shelter” bed available (most have a waiting list months long), their only option is a low-rent hotel.  However, the question of “where does the money come from” comes up quickly – and then if there are substance use issues, a hotel is not conducive to recovery and being a part of a program.

Often, the response of the Pathway Navigators is, “you are going to remain in housing crisis for some time”.  BUT – we will work on a plan to get other parts of your life together, while having a goal to obtain housing in the future.

REAL LIFE’s Housing Process

In order to be considered for housing at one of The REAL Houses, the individual must be an active Lifer, which means having an assigned Pathway Navigator. For someone who is currently incarcerated and interested in being released to a REAL House, they may write us with the specific request, have their attorney contact us, or have case worker/counselor at the jail or prison contact us.

While living in The REAL House, in addition to continuing to be an active Lifer and engaging in services through the REAL LIFE Community Center, all residents are required to do weekly community service, attend recovery based meetings and REAL Life events each week, and ensure the cleanliness of the house. They are also subject to regular and random drug screenings, as well as an 8 p.m. curfew.

It is important to understand that the first two weeks residing at the house are considered “stabilization.” During this time, the individual must be at the Community Center daily (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), in order to engage in all groups, classes, multiple meetings with the Pathway Navigator, perform service work, and alike. This period aims at building a strong foundation before a person begins work and other things that distract from recovery. After the two weeks is completed satisfactorily, the individual is eligible to begin searching for employment, which our Quick Start to Employment Program Coordinator assists with.

After approximately six months in the house, the Lifer should be ready to move into independent living, such as an apartment of their own. They will have a bank account and money saved, which will enable them to do so.