The pain and experiences of our Black friends, neighbors and families are at the forefront of our society. United Way of Greater Los Angeles has deeply reflected on structural racism in Los Angeles County, how generational poverty has been a result of this, and as such, we must do more to center our work around racial equity and justice.

The legacy of institutional racism can be seen in the disproportionate effect the interlocking crises of homelessness and COVID-19 have on our Black neighbors and communities. It is more important than ever to ensure the organizations that serve Black communities have the resources and support they need.

United Way’s partner A New Way of Life Reentry (ANWOL)is an organization that provides housing to women in South Los Angeles and Long Beach as they exit prison. The organization was started in 1998 by Founder/President Susan Burton, a woman who herself spent six terms in prison as a result of trauma that led to addiction. As she came out of prison for the last time, she found rehabilitation at an organization in Santa Monica. This inspired her to bring this powerful resource to women in South Los Angeles.

In the past 22 years, ANWOL has grown from a single home to nine homes serving 64 women. The organization gives women a second chance with housing, employment services, leadership training, and family reunification.

ANWOL also provides legal services that help community members reduce and expunge convictions. They advocate freeing residents and community members who may find themselves trapped in unhealthy, unfair cycles in the justice system. Through the SAFE Housing Network, ANWOL trains people across the United States to replicate their unique reentry model.

“As COVID-19 hit, it became immediately apparent that people in our community were suffering. We could not stand idly by at this time, so we immediately sprang into action at the end of March,” Susan said. The organization started a rapid response fund to help people with necessities and provided 600 grocery cards as people faced financial hardship and food insecurity as the stay-at-home order set in.

While just a couple of months prior it seemed unimaginable, ANWOL decided they must do what they could to help by opening a ninth home. This would give some women a place to land and shelter from the pandemic as they left incarceration. “It's never easy to come out of prison and find a job and stay healthy. At this time it's 10 times as difficult,” Susan remarked.

ANWOL received funds from United Way’s Pandemic Relief Fund, in partnership with BET’s and United Way Worldwide’s telethon, supporting five organizations that serve Los Angeles’s Black communities with rental assistance, food, health and student learning support. Other grantees include the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, Community Coalition, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA-CAN), and the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles.

“We appreciate the backing of BET and United Way to help us bring support to the Black community. COVID-19 has hit our community really hard,” Susan said. “The grant will allow our community to breathe more easily… It gives us renewed hope and the fortitude to meet the many challenges of this time." Building on the rapid response fund that ANWOL created earlier in the pandemic, they’ll continue to help people who are involved in the justice system with basic necessities like groceries and bills.

The disproportionate racial impact of the justice system is a deep shame that we must confront—and the renewed urgency of achieving justice for all is an opportunity we must embrace. I’m proud that United Way can share the story of A New Way Of Life and support their return to life in our communities.”

United Way of Greater Los Angeles is committed to serving our Black neighbors and communities with short and long-term recovery efforts due to the pandemic, as well as targeted support through our housing, education and economic mobility efforts. Please join us at https://www.unitedwayla.org/en/give/