Alexandria, VA

For many women at Friends of Guest House, self-quarantining bears an uncomfortable familiarity to the jails and prisons they just left.

The Alexandria shelter helps women emerging from incarceration reenter their communities. But coronavirus has put a new wrench into those plans and spokesperson Marisa Tordella says there’s some extra frustrations and tensions for women who once again feel like they are in lockdown.

“There are peaks and valleys,” Tordella said. “I think one of the things that is really hard for our clients — even though their movement is restricted and locked in their home — it’s familiar to incarceration so there’s a lot of anxiety with that. We’re trying to bring as much to them as they can to make them feel better, to encourage them that it’s not just them. Everyone is feeling this.”

There are two homes for clients at Friends of Guest House, both of which are still open. While other non-profits have had to curtail their operations or close entirely, Tordella said their organization’s clients have become even more reliant on the services their nonprofit provides.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” Tordella said. “It’s obviously stressful. It’s very difficult and challenging. It feels like our world is upside down but I don’t think we’re alone in that.”

For the most part, Tordella said the organization is following CDC guidelines for homes and facilities. The group is also meeting with both the health department and other local organizations to figure out what has and hasn’t been working for other organizations.

“There’s a lot of across the board confusion related to what to do if one of your clients thinks they might be sick,” Tordella said. “Even at the Alexandria Health Department page it says to refer to the state page, where it says to reach out to the local department. So there’s a lot of confusion in that realm.”

Part of keeping the residents at Friends of Guest House safe has meant restricting movement in the community, which has also meant either eliminating resources like Alcoholics Anonymous or accessing counseling and services virtually. It’s an issue other parts of Alexandria, like the Treatment Court, have also struggled with.

“A lot of clients would go to the community services board for therapy and substance abuse groups and all of that has moved to virtual,” Tordella said. “There have been some hiccups with technology, like in terms of volume of services, and any recreational movement in the community has been stopped.”

Still, the staff at the facility have been trying to step up to help provide additional coping mechanisms. Staff lead walks — with appropriate social distancing — at least once a day to get fresh air and move around. Other activities have included a root beer float party and someone bringing a dog over to play with the residents.

Tordella also said they’ve been working on figuring out what clients need and reaching out to the community for help. An Amazon wishlist is currently set up to help get recreational activities and supplies to women in the program.

No matter how bad things are getting regarding the coronavirus pandemic, Tordella is happy the women are in the shelter instead of at home. Self-isolating has amplified many of the domestic abuse problems in households.

“I read that in D.C. there’s an increase in domestic abuse calls,” Tordella said. “Even though it’s not ideal for clients to feel like they’re in restricted movement, we’re happy they’re with us and they’re safe, that no one is going to hurt them.”

Photo courtesy Friends of Guest House

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