OAR’s Executive Director Derwin Overton Advocates for Affordable Housing for Justice-Involved Individuals

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“Thank you for this opportunity to address the Board of Supervisors this evening on the issue of affordable housing and re-entry. As it was stated I am the Executive Director of Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources, also known as OAR. It is a restorative justice community nonprofit that provides services for people who have been incarcerated and their family members for over 50 years here in Fairfax County. Individuals are incarcerated on a daily basis and sometimes engaged in the system where they’re there for multiple years. When they leave out of that system, part of what they’re looking for is an opportunity to reengage right back into the community where they may have been raised and born. We know right now but that opportunity isn’t there for individuals who have been incarcerated returning back into the community due to the lack of affordable housing and rental opportunities. I greatly appreciate that you made it a priority to ensure that County residents have access to affordable and safe housing. However, I’m here to talk about ALL Fairfax County residents having affordable housing. I hope that we can see affordable housing become more of a priority by becoming a priority in the budget. The cost of housing in this area is a challenge. I work for a local non-profit and I speak to my staff – and only a couple of them live in the County. I wonder what happens to the people that we serve if the people that have jobs can’t even afford to live into the community. I can only imagine the challenges that individuals reenter into the community face when they’re trying to break the cycle of crime and how housing is a major issue as far as that is concerned. As a restorative justice agency, we ask our clientele to take part in a process that is supposed to offer opportunities to all involved to heal and move on. However, when a safe place to live cannot be included at the end of that process then why engage in it and get involved, besides helping the victim to be able to be in a better place because that’s also an important piece of the restorative justice process. OAR tries to engage with individuals from a restorative justice and have them do community service and other things to build them back up in the community so they feel like they belong, and that they are a part of the community. How can you be part of a community when you can’t afford to live in that community? I believe that developing affordable housing will break a bottle neck, and will allow individuals that our transitioning from incarceration to have an opportunity to live somewhere and have pride in where they live. And often when we talk about affordable housing I ask you to think of more than just misdemeanors. The individuals that have committed the serious crimes are the people that you really want to make sure that they’re safe and secure because that security can in turn provide other opportunities for them that can allowed to engage and assist the community. The other important piece of affordable housing, in my humble opinion, is that if we’re able to take lower-income individuals and have them actually working in the community they’re able to contribute more because they’re paying less; they’re spending less time on the roads. For every one individual incarcerated there’s 2.5 children. If we don’t stabilize the adults, then that means there are more people that are going to potentially follow that cycle of crime, and that’s the last thing we want from our children. We want our children to do better than the parents and so on and so on. So, I thank you for this opportunity, I hope that each and every individual will get a fair opportunity at affordable housing here in Fairfax County, and please don’t forget returning citizens. Have a blessed evening.”

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