Young Women’s Freedom Center and Five Keys to Provide Emergency Housing for Women and Gender Nonconforming People in San Francisco in Response to COVID-19

Formerly incarcerated people and survivors of violence will receive housing and supportive services

May 18, 2020

Media contacts:
Layla Crater,, 310-804-3107
Debbie Mesloh,, 415-867-2243

San Francisco, CA — In the first collaboration of its kind, the Young Women’s Freedom Center and Five Keys Schools and Programs announced today that they have secured up to 20 hotel rooms as emergency supportive housing for recently released women and gender non-conforming people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Lack of housing is a major issue for justice involved or formerly incarcerated women, trans and GNC people, especially survivors of violence and exploitation,” said Jessica Nowlan, executive director of the Young Women’s Freedom Center. “People need housing in order to heal from and escape cycles of poverty, violence and incarceration. We see housing as a critical part of the fight for rights, justice and equity, and our dream has long been to fill the critical gap that existing housing and reentry programs don’t provide. Through this partnership with Five Keys, and with the support of the community, we can make sure that people have the support they need to be safe, healthy and free.”

As a result of the collaboration between Five Keys and Young Women’s Freedom Center, a hotel in San Francisco is providing a safe haven and supportive environment for up to 20 people to shelter in place during the coronavirus outbreak, with space for 90 days. Residents will include cis- and transgender women and gender non-conforming (GNC) people who have been recently released from incarceration and have experienced sexual and/or domestic violence and homelessness. The site is confidential to protect survivors who are escaping violence and exploitation.

“The overwhelming majority of temporary housing and reentry programs are not designed to meet the needs of the justice involved and incarcerated women, trans and GNC people, who are survivors of trauma, sexual violence, and/or intimate partner violence prior to their arrest and thereafter,” said Steve Good, executive director of Five Keys. “Social Justice must include gender justice and the work of Young Women’s Freedom Center and this emergency housing is a critical start.”

People who are incarcerated and unhoused already struggle with a lack of resources and secure places to shelter. Having little to no control over their environment, access to prevention supplies and sub-standard to non-existent sanitation, they are at very high risk for contracting COVID-19. Those experiencing intimate violence and abuse are locked up with their perpetrator and those experiencing sexual exploitation or survival sex work are at very high risk for both violence and COVID-19. Young Women’s Freedom Center and Five Keys launched this effort to ensure that these most vulnerable and marginalized populations are taken care of and provided for during the pandemic. The two organizations also aim to expand the initiative, with the goal to secure additional housing.

San Francisco businesswoman Elisa Stephens was critical in making this project a reality. “The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our communities but also gives us new and innovative ways to serve,” Stephens said. “I am very happy to be able to give back to San Francisco during this crisis, particularly to  and for the women who need safe housing and responsive services the most.”

In addition to housing, residents also will receive case management and have access to critical support, including relapse prevention support, domestic violence counseling and trauma-informed counseling. Hygiene, art and journaling supplies, basic clothing and public health supplies are also being  provided. The City and County of San Francisco is providing lunch and dinner through SF New Deal through shelter-in-place, and the Department of Public Health is providing on-site wellness checks and COVID-19 screening.

Young Women’s Freedom Center and Five Keys are in the process of identifying an additional site for supportive housing in San Francisco or the East Bay to open by June 1. Young Women’s Freedom Center is also working to identify an additional site for the program in Los Angeles. The launch of the program was made possible through $350,000 raised from anonymous and private donors.

Young Women’s Freedom Center’s work to secure emergency housing and supports for women, transgender, and gender non-conforming people is part of the #SafeHealthyFree campaign, which was launched in response to COVID-19. More information on the campaign is available at


The mission of the Young Women’s Freedom Center, formerly the Center for Young Women’s Development, is to empower and inspire young women who have been involved with the juvenile/ criminal justice system and/or the street economy to create positive change in their lives and communities. Since 1993, the organization has begun its transformative work by meeting young women where they are: in juvenile halls, jails, and on the streets and linking youth development and youth organizing strategies with the mission to provide gender-specific, peer-based opportunities for high-risk, low- and no-income young women. In 2020, Young Women’s Freedom Center launched Freedom 2030, a 10-year campaign to decriminalize and decarcerate girls, women, and TGNC people in California. For more information visit


Five Keys was founded within the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department in 2003 by Sunny Schwartz, under the leadership of Sheriff Michael Hennessey. Five Keys was the first of its kind in the nation accredited charter high school to provide a High School diploma program for adults in county jails. Executive Director Steve Good has tremendously expanded Five Keys School to include education, vocational skills and recovery programs throughout California, serving 25,000 individuals each year in 80 community centers in nine counties throughout Southern California, the Bay Area and Sonoma County. Five Keys also manages two Navigation centers which provide shelter and programs and services in San Francisco. 

Five Keys Schools’ most recent initiative in partnership with Young Women’s Freedom Center is the Five Keys HOME FREE project, a transitional housing program for criminalized survivors of domestic violence who will be released after serving 10 to 40 years in prison. Online at and