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Ex-offender opens house to help formerly incarcerated women

Updated March 11, 2020 - 5:30 pm

Vera Moore was tired of seeing men selling drugs behind her house in Virginia.

Concerned for the safety of her grandchildren, she marched over to them.

“I was like, ‘Hey, what can I do to help you guys move on?’” she said.

They told her they were felons and couldn’t find jobs.

“That was the challenge. I said if I could find you a job, then you have to leave this area,” she said. Moore got to work and said she found everyone jobs at local shops. Soon enough they stopped hanging around.

A few months later she received a knock at her door from one of the men.

“He just started bawling. He said, ‘I can’t believe it; I have a real job and everything I make I can send to my son,’” she said, adding that the man, whom she helped get a job at a T-shirt shop, was able to stay in an apartment above it. “My husband was just floored and he shut the door and says, ‘You need to have an office now that people are coming up to our door.’”

Thus, True Beginnings — an organization dedicated to reducing recidivism through housing — began. As the organization evolved, Moore focused her work on helping formerly incarcerated women.

When Moore moved to Las Vegas from a town in eastern Virginia in 2016, she brought True Beginnings with her. In early March, the group opened its first home, called “Divinity House,” dedicated to helping recently incarcerated women reconnect with society, find jobs and rebuild their relationships with their families.

The house, in an east Las Vegas neighborhood, was developed through True Beginnings’ Divinity House Collaborative program. Up to seven women can stay at the home for up to 12 months, and programming helps them learn how to budget, plan meals and journal. Trauma counseling and family-reunification services are offered. A housing coordinator also stays with them at the home.

Moore said she understands the difficulties of finding a place to call home. She served two years in prison after she was convicted of arson when she lived in the San Francisco Bay area.

“Coming home from prison being riddled with that trauma, and people telling you where to go, when to sit down, when to stand up, what to eat, when to eat it, when to go to work, it was so much structure that when I came home, I couldn’t even walk across the street,” she said.

Moore was given the opportunity to be a real estate agent. After six years she began using drugs again as an escape from a bad marriage, she said, and memories of domestic abuse. Moore was then going to jail a few times a year, she said.

It took her years to fully come clean and walk away from her marriage, she said. Moore went through a period of homelessness and successfully fought for custody of her four children.

Now, she hopes to help other women who were in her position by providing a safe space with opportunities for them to grow.

“This is the first gender-responsive home (in Las Vegas),” she said. “What that means is that everything that goes on here is to help a woman be the best woman that she can be.”

Meditation, for example, can help residents understand their triggers and how to deal with the negative voice in their heads that hold them back from achieving, she added.

Moore said she focuses on providing a place for women because she believes many programs for the formerly incarcerated focus on men. In December 2019, there were 1,247 women at the Nevada Department of Corrections facilities, according to NDOC statistics. In contrast, there were 11,682 men.

The incarceration rate for women in Nevada prisons rose 1,166 percent from 1980-2017, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a research and policy nonprofit based in New York (no association with Vera Moore).

All seven beds at the house in east Las Vegas are booked, and the women are scheduled to move in soon, Moore said.

“We need more housing,” she said, adding she believes about 200 women leave prison in Nevada every month. “Where do they go?”

About the home

The house at 4510 E. Saint Louis Ave. already has a homely feel, even though no one had moved in as of March 3.

Women living there will pay $500 a month for rent, which will cover utilities, cable, internet and other amenities. The rest will be covered by a grant awarded by A New Way of Life for $40,000. About half of that was used to renovate the home.

One upstairs room has enough space for children to visit their mothers. Each twin bed has a laundry basket at the foot stocked with toiletries and other bathroom products.

There are couches in the living room and a dining table.

In the backyard, one shed has been turned into an office so caseworkers can work with each woman privately; another holds clothing; and a longer, locked storage unit holds donated furniture.

The idea is that women will be able to take some furniture with them once they move out, Moore said.

“It was her vision from the start and she knew exactly what she was looking for and everything we needed for the ladies,” said True Beginnings President Veleta Keller.

Moore hopes the organization will be able to open more houses soon. Since the grand-opening event in early March, she said, she has received a flood of emails from residents offering to rent out their houses to True Beginnings or donate lightly used furniture.

Moore hopes she can help these women like her grandmother, whom she was named after, helped her. After she was incarcerated, her grandmother loved her and did not pass judgment, she said.

“That’s what really tugged at my heart, to let me know that I still was loved despite all the things that I had done,” she said.

Contact Alex Chhith at achhith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0290. Follow @alexchhith on Twitter.

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