There was a time I never thought I’d be able to tell my story. The pain and trauma were too much. But there I was in Annapolis, speaking to the state legislature. I realized my experience could help others.
Almost 15 years ago, I ended up with a criminal record following an incident where I was trying to protect my young daughter, Cherish. I didn’t know at the time, but some of the more serious charges would stay on my record, even though I was never convicted of them.
Cherish and I lost our home in 2011, and that’s when having a record really hurt me and my family. I got a voucher for housing three times, but each time, I couldn’t find a place that would accept us. The landlord either saw my history, wouldn’t accept the voucher, or both.
It is frustrating. Every time I try to get a job, I get stopped at the background check. I’m working to show I’m not the person my record says I am—I raised a daughter who is now in college—but I’m still in a transitional home.
My story deserves a better ending, and I’ll keep fighting until I get there.
I’ve learned to channel my frustration and become an advocate with the help of therapy and care at Health Care for the Homeless. That’s how I ended up in Annapolis, testifying in support of expungement expansion and the HOME Act. These policies would help thousands of people like me overcome the barrier of a criminal record while also ending discrimination against people paying for housing with vouchers.
I’m proud to say that the HOME Act finally passed, giving more people the chance to find housing. But we still have more work to do on expungement, which means I’m not done yet.
Dorsheena Hagler is a member of the Health Care for the Homeless Consumer Relations Committee.
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