Executive Director Rita Zimmer and tenants in the backyard of a Housing+Solutions house.
Celebrating 15 Years
2017 marks the 15th anniversary of Housing+Solutions. Our founder and executive director, Rita Zimmer, was inspired to found our organization by volunteer work that she did at Taconic Women’s Correctional Facility in Bedford, New York. She and Bonnie Bach, a friend who would become a board member, began spending one day a week meeting with women who were preparing for reentering the community. “We learned first-hand what was important for the women,” Rita said. “Women would tell us, ‘You’re the first person who’s asked me what I need.’” It became clear that housing was each woman’s primary concern.
In partnership with the Women’s Prison Association, Rita opened a transitional residence in Brooklyn in 2002 for eight women recently released from prison or jail. At the same time, Rita began meeting with individuals who would become stakeholders in a new organization: Housing+Solutions. Four of the founding board members—Annabel Davis-Goff, Alexis Perrotta, Bonnie Bach, and Phyllis Chillingworth—remain active to this day. Within a few years, with funding from the Housing Urban Development agency (HUD) and private grants, we opened two more residences for women and women with children who were homeless after leaving prison or graduating from alternative to incarceration programs. “Our focus was on creating housing that was welcoming, safe, and affordable to offset the chaotic lives women had lived for far too long,” said Rita. “Whatever housing we created had to have the potential to be a home.”
A new partnership with the Brooklyn D.A.’s office in 2009 led to the opening of Drew House, the first family Alternative to Incarceration program in the country. (You can learn more here about the success of this model here.) In 2012, we became the first organization in New York City to focus on serving female veterans experiencing homelessness. This effort will continue to grow in 2017 as we expand to operate 50 units of housing for single women and 20 for families, thanks to a recent grant from HUD.
Our most recent project returns to serving women involved with the criminal justice system. We invited four sister agencies (Greenhope Services for Children, Hour Children, Providence House and the Women’s Prison Association) to work with us in developing an Alternative to Detention program to divert women at the time of their arrest away from serving time at Rikers jail while waiting for their cases to be decided. We established the Women’s Community Justice Project and developed a small pilot housing project with foundation and private funding. So far Housing+Solutions and our partners have successfully served 12 women. We’re working to fund and expand this initiative.
As we enter our 15th year, we’re looking to expand both our housing and services to ensure that women have safe, affordable housing along with the professional counseling, educational support, and employment services they need to remain stably housed and achieve a greater degree of financial independence. “We make a difference—women reunite with their children, women stay sober, women find work, and they are grateful for a chance to start over,” Rita said. She spoke about one of the tenants who has been with us since our early years. “Whenever I see her, she expresses such gratitude for the opportunity to be the mother she always wanted to be,” Rita said. “In Housing+Solutions, people can be the genuine person they want to be.”
Featured @ Housing+Solutions
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded Housing+Solutions a grant to opennew housing for female veterans: 20 units for single women and 10 units for families headed by female veterans.
Welcome to Frederick Muldrow, our new Employment Coordinator, and Rhonda Whitley, our new Assistant Job Developer!