‘WomenFirst’: opening doors to women leaving prison

Multnomah County

Local non-profit offers second chance to women in transition

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A local non-profit is out to prove that second chances are possible. 

WomenFirst Transition and Referral Center provides programs, resources, and recovery housing for women exiting prison and recovering from addiction and trauma.

The women’s non-profit organization primarily assists Black women, but Founder/President Shannon Olive told KOIN 6 News they are open and willing to serve any woman seeking a transformation in her life.

“We are focused on those women because of the disproportionate discrimination and stereotyping they face,” Said Olive. “We feel that they deserve a second chance in life, so they can also become successful and productive members of our society.”

WomenFirst’s reintegration program services women out of the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility 6 months prior to their release from prison and assists them with services and support for up to a year after. 

Courtesy: WomenFirst Transition and Referral Center

“Being in prison is a confinement. It’s something that has really restricted them,” Olive explained. “So once they get out we want to do whatever we can to help them become free, give them a new opportunity, and help them and society understand that they do deserve a second chance.”

Olive told KOIN 6 News their work is critical, as women transitioning out of prison often have decreased access to certain educational, employment, and housing opportunities. And without these resources some women may find themselves back in vulnerable positions, increasing their risk of reoffending.

“Our goal is to bridge the gap for women facing those barriers and help them rebuild their lives by learning to love themselves,” Olive stated. 

The organization has helped approximately 50 women, offering help with court fines and fees, mental health resources, financial education and credit literacy courses, as well as clothing, employment and expungement assistance.

This year, WomenFirst opened their ‘Faith House‘. The post re-entry long term recovery home is one of the first in Multnomah County and provides a home for women for up to two years until they can obtain permanent housing.

“We did some research and found that once women come out of prison and go into transitional housing or treatment, a lot of them have barriers that prevent them from getting into housing,” Olive explained. “We wanted to bridge that gap and provide a place for women to continue to strive, to reunite with their children, and continue to have opportunities to be the best version of themselves.”

The Faith House provides ‘wrap around services’ for tenants and is currently home to three residents, though it can house up to seven. Olive told KOIN 6 News, “We plan to be at full capacity by the end of this year.”

WomenFirst Team. Courtesy: WomenFirst Transition and Referral Center

With the home successfully up and running WomenFirst is now raising money for a van to transport women in their program. The organization has already fundraised $3,000 of their $15,000 goal.

“A van would mean we could transport women from the prison and take them to and from their court appearances and appointments,” Olive stated. “Being able to have a van to transport them while they’re in our program and on their journey to success would be very accommodating for us.”

According to Olive the organization is currently using personal vehicles to pick up the women in their program from prison, since women released without transportation have no choice but to leave early and navigate an hour-long bus ride into the city with limited resources.

WomenFirst is actively hiring for three positions and is always taking volunteers. The organization is currently expanding their life-skills develop training and is launching new courses this fall. 

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