Emergency Housing Done Differently and Better

Young Women’s Freedom Center report shows that safe and supportive housing can make a meaningful impact.

October 4, 2021

Media contacts

Thabile Makue, thabile@youngwomenfree.org, 510-980-1446

San Francisco, CA — On October 4, 2021, Young Women’s Freedom Center (YWFC) will release a new report reflecting on their COVID-19 Emergency Housing Program. The paper looks at the challenges to funding short-term housing, shortcomings of common models, and shows that safe and supportive housing can make a meaningful and transformational difference.

The COVID-19 Emergency Housing Program developed by YWFC with support from Five Keys, provided 90-day emergency housing for cis and trans women, trans men, and gender-expansive people who were unhoused or unsafely housed and system-impacted, formerly incarcerated, and survivors of gender-based and intimate partner violence and exploitation. It was located at a small hotel outside San Francisco’s downtown area. 

Staffed by people with lived experiences navigating various systems, YWFC Managing Director, Julia Arroyo says the program stood in intentional contrast to system-based housing models which encourage punitive discipline procedures, surveillance, and imposing ideas of success. “We worked hard to center the dignity and self-determination of our communities in structuring what our program would look like. We were well aware of what had not worked when we or our loved ones or community members had tried to access many transitional housing programs in the past, and this knowledge together with our programming experience helped us create a program which prioritized self-determination and dignity.”

Participants in this program ranged in age from 18 to 65. 11.1% were under 20, 33.3% were in their 20s, 28.9% in their 30s, 13.3% 40s, 6.6% 50s, and 6.6% in their 60s. 

Four participants had been recently released from long-term prison sentences prior to their participation in the program.

In terms of race and ethnicity, 61% of participants identified as Black, 17.4% as non-Black Latinx, Hispanic or Chicanx, 8.7% as Asian or Pacific Islander, 6.5% as White, 4.3% as Native American and 2.2% as Arab.

In regard to gender, 89% identified as female, 6.6% identified as male, and 4.4% identified as nonbinary. Of those participants, 26.7% identified as transgender and 73.3% as cisgender.

31.1% of residents identified as LBQ+, 64.5% as straight, and 4.4% declined to respond.

YWFC Executive Director, Jessica Nowlan says the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Program was largely successful. “We were able to provide housing from May to October 2020 for 45 participants, 93% of whom secured a place to stay after our program. This shows that when we trust and respect the agency of participants, and provide support that empowers – we make meaningful and transformational impact possible.”


The mission of the Young Women’s Freedom Center, originally called Young Women’s Development Center, is to empower and inspire young women who have been involved with the juvenile justice system and/or the street economy to create positive change in their lives and communities. Since 1993, the organization has begun their 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. For more information visit youngwomenfree.org.