• December 2013

Opening Doorways: Learn How This Nonprofit Is Fighting for Women and Families

By Caroline Jones
Executive Director
Doorways for Women and Families

Everyone deserves safe, affordable housing and a quality life. It’s what we believe at Doorways for Women and Families, and it’s why we work every day to transform the lives of women and families who are facing homelessness or suffering from abuse.

Since 1978, we have offered a pathway out of violence and homelessness for women and families in Arlington, VA. Our comprehensive approach provides safe shelter and housing, life-changing support services, and community advocacy, resulting in new beginnings for thousands of parents and their children.

How It All Began

Thirty-five years ago, a group of Arlington citizens formed Doorways to ensure women and families had a place to flee domestic violence in our community. Our founders quickly saw the immeasurable impact this resource had on families and were inspired to do more.

Two houses were purchased in the 1980s to provide dedicated, temporary housing and supportive programs to women and families in a home-like environment. In 1996 we launched a housing program to meet the critical need for housing for families leaving our shelters, and more recently, to prevent families from needing shelter. Today, we offer a wide array of solution-focused services to meet the needs of our families, offering them their best chance for success. In addition to housing and shelter, we provide counseling, children’s programs, court advocacy, a 24-hour hotline, financial skill building, and workforce development services.

What started as a volunteer-driven effort to provide shelter to a few families has grown tremendously over the years into a multifaceted continuum of holistic programs for moving families from crisis to stability.

Our Approach

The causes of family homelessness and domestic violence are profound and varied. As a result, there is no single service that universally helps families overcome their barriers to independence. Doorways has developed a three-tiered strategy to meet both the immediate and long-term needs of our clients, as well as to address the economic and societal issues that lead to violence, poverty, and family homelessness:

  1. Provide immediate and long-term, safe housing for women and families fleeing domestic violence and homelessness;
  2. Deliver holistic support services that teach individuals the skills and tools necessary to lead safe, independent lives;
  3. Actively participate in community partnerships and advocate for political and economic changes that will eliminate the root causes of violence, poverty, and family homelessness.

Meeting the Growing Need

Since 2009, Arlington County has experienced record increases in family homelessness, with families representing the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. During the same time period, domestic violence arrests increased by 107 percent. While the need is great, so is Doorways’ commitment to meet it.

Every year, we help more women, children, and families build brighter futures. Since 2005, we have responded to the growing need by increasing our shelter capacity, hotline response, and permanent housing capacity, as well as the range and quality of the services we offer. Specifically, we have:

  • Grown the capacity of our Freddie Mac Foundation Family Home by increasing the number of beds from 16 to 21 and remodeling the home to better accommodate client and program needs
  • Increased our Domestic Violence Hotline responses and Court Advocacy services by 302 percent
  • Expanded the capacity by 414 percent in our permanent housing programs to serve more families who are at risk of becoming or returning to homelessness or domestic violence
  • Increased by 253 percent the amount of services provided to our clients (counseling services, Children’s Services, and Financial Independence Track)

Rita’s Story

Rita came to the Doorways’ Domestic Violence Safehouse in January 2013 after finding the strength to leave her abusive partner and the father of her 2-year-old daughter. As a teenage mother, Rita continued attending high school while living at the Safehouse in addition to working a 30-hour-per-week retail job that allowed her to save money for the future.

The future came quickly as Rita began working towards transitioning from the Safehouse to a home of her own in the community. Working with Doorways Housing Locator, Rita applied for and was approved for a one-bedroom apartment and in April, she and her daughter moved into their own home for the first time.

Rita continues to work with Doorways staff to ensure that she can maintain her housing and make progress towards her goals of completing her high school education and securing higher-paying employment. Doorways provides a monthly rental subsidy, and Rita contributes a portion of the rent based on her income. Rita is learning how to maintain a safe relationship with her child’s father and is making progress on her goals to be independent.

The Results

Rita and her daughter represent just two of the many women, men, and children Doorways helps each year. In 2013 alone, Doorways helped 2,146 people affected by domestic violence and homelessness.

We work with each woman and family we serve to address the root causes of homelessness or violence and offer holistic services that provide the best chance for long-term success. Today, two-thirds of our clients live outside of our shelters, and over 85 percent of our program graduates have jobs, savings, benefits, and reduced debt. But our accomplishments pale in comparison to those of our clients.

Last year:

  • 89% of clients met goals of increased stability/self-sufficiency in areas of housing, employment, and economic wellness.
  • 80% of clients exiting Doorways programs transitioned to safe, positive housing, where they can remain long-term.
  • 100% of school-age children served were enrolled in school or continued in their school of origin.
  • 100% of parents surveyed reported learning how to relate better with their children and understanding their needs better
  • 100% of families participating in Doorways’ Financial Independence Track developed financial-goal plans to reduce debt and restore healthy finances. These families increased their annual wealth accumulation by an average of $25,653.

Click here for more information about Doorways for Women and Families.


About Caroline Jones

Caroline Jones, MSW, has been part of the Doorways team since 2003. After serving as Doorways Director of Client Services, she became executive director in 2011. Her entire career has been devoted to serving at-risk children and families, with 23 years of experience with clinical intervention, mutual competency models of leadership, advocacy, program development, and community partnerships.

Under her leadership, Doorways transformed and expanded client service delivery to provide comprehensive, family-centered and strength-based supports for women and families. Jones serves on the leadership of the Arlington County 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, Arlington County’s Project PEACE, and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness Leadership Council.

Development Director Heather O’Malley contributed to this report.

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