Happy New Year and Welcome to 2021!
What a year we had in 2020! And what a year 2021 has kicked off to be. In 2020, we found ourselves throughout the year, working at home, creating virtual platforms, building and assembling a lot of furniture, expanding capacity, and really growing faster and more than we had anticipated. COVID most definitely brought a unique set of challenges to REAL LIFE, but I am proud that our amazing staff was able to rise above, adapt, and work to meet the needs of our community. It wasn’t easy, but we were dedicated and saw results – and those results led to a strategic realignment amidst REAL LIFE, which I am writing to share with you!
Prior to COVID, while we had three recovery transitional houses, the majority of the Lifers we served were daytime outpatient clients, who would regularly come into our community center on Main Street, but they did not live in one of our houses. However, when COVID hit, we had to stop operating directly out of the community center. We never stopped providing services, but instead began providing them all virtually. We no longer had the rotating door of the community center like we did before. Although we did have a sign on the door that told people to call for services, that phone line did not often ring; however the phone line that did not stop ringing was for individuals needing housing.
While we knew prior to COVID that we had a housing shortage, the increase in need skyrocketed due to the pandemic. People were scrambling to secure housing in order to prevent getting COVID. Jails and prisons were releasing offenders at unprecedented numbers, and people were also receiving bonds at much higher rates. Drug use skyrocketed, as did overdose rates. These events led REAL LIFE to realize we had to provide more housing in order to adequately fulfill our mission of service to those trying to overcome adverse situations.
As a response, and because of our loyal and dedicated supporters and donors, we were able to open our 4th recovery transitional house in August, our 5th in October, and our 6th in December. Needless to say, it was a whirlwind.
Doubling the number REAL LIFE Houses enabled us to begin to better meet the need that we were seeing in the community, caused by COVID, drug usage, and overdoses. Additionally, by providing housing we are able to serve Lifers much more comprehensively. By providing housing first, then having services follow, men and women have a much greater likelihood for achieving success. This seems obvious to us now, but before COVID it was not as clear – if somebody does not have a place to live, the likelihood of them not only earning a job, but also keeping their job, is low. However, if they first secure housing and then obtain the job, the odds significantly change. That is one of our biggest realizations from COVID, and why REAL LIFE as an organization has shifted its focus to primarily serving men and women that we house.
I want to note that due to this newfound emphasis on housing we are still providing intense case management, classes and other services, but these will mainly be held through and at the houses, and through our new East End location (more on that in a minute). As such, after much thought and sadness, we closed the REAL LIFE Community Center on Main Street on December 31st. While Real Life will still provide services through a one stop shop design, utilizing the housing model made us realize we no longer had such a dire need for such a large building headquarters.
We also experienced an additional layer of growth in 2020: in October, we opened a satellite center on the East End due to the glaring issues of drugs and crime that they are encountering in that area. Community investor and philanthropist, Steve Markel, provided REAL LIFE with the opportunity of partnership, to assist in eradicating these issues within the East End. REAL LIFE East enables us to have a centralized location in an area that our REAL LIFE East staff are dedicated to serving, while also partnering with many other great organizations in that area that are engaging in similar efforts.
Overall, there is so much I am looking forward to this year. While we do not know exactly what 2021 will bring, just as we had no idea what 2020 would entail, we are excited about the growth that we experienced. Finally, we look forward to continuing to be able to serve many wonderful men and women and helping them on their pathway towards thriving.