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Treasure Island housing gives domestic abuse survivors second chance

Treasure Island housing gives domestic abuse survivors second chance
Treasure Island housing gives domestic abuse survivors second chance 03:20

TREASURE ISLAND - Domestic violence survivors are unlocking hope in their new homes, in what's believed to be a first-of-its-kind housing program in California.

Cooking in her own kitchen was a taste of freedom Belinda Anderson had not known for more than half her life.

"I'm starting my life at the age most people retire," she said.

Anderson was once a dental assistant, living with her boyfriend and their daughter.

She recalled, "The hitting started, the beating started, then the cheating came."

She says back then, people didn't consider the behavior domestic violence as we do today.

"I felt like such a failure. I couldn't tell [people] what I was going through, because they would've been like, 'Girl, shake it off!'" Anderson said.

So she looked for coping mechanisms.

"I grasped at anything. I grasped at other people's lifestyles. I grasped at using drugs, and then that became my life," she said.

And one day, the San Francisco native killed a cab driver during a robbery. She spent the last 31 years in state prison in Chowchilla.

Abuse survivors like Anderson have served decades-long prison terms; some for killing their violent partners. But legislative reforms in the last decade have allowed women to challenge their convictions by showing they were abuse victims.

Anderson was released in March. Governor Jerry Brown commuted her life sentence.

"It was like a dream," she said, to hear of her release.

Anderson is one of up to a dozen formerly incarcerated women who live in furnished 2-bedroom apartments on Treasure Island rent-free.

The Five Keys Home Free Project started the innovative transitional housing program two years ago, to help abuse survivors unlock a second chance at life.

"When I walked through that door, I was like - I got an apartment. You know, I held the keys, I rattled the keys. I just kept jiggling the keys in my hand," Anderson smiled.

She is getting the wide-ranging support she needs to re-enter society: a second family at five keys, a job, technology and financial literacy classes, and help enrolling in college this fall.

"I wake up with a smile on my face every morning because it's like, 'God, thank you, I made it,"" Anderson declared.

Every day is new experience. From the high cost of eating out, to sleeping in a room alone.

"At first it was kind of spooky to me, because you could hear every little sound," she said.

Simple pleasures bring her joy: her comfortable bed, bubble baths as long as or as many times as she wants, and breathtaking views of the bay bridge from her back window.

"It';; be all lit up at night. Sometimes I just stand here and it'd be like, 'I'm really home, there it is !'" she reflected.

Thanks to Five Keys, Anderson is hope-filled, and home free.

The nonprofit's second annual fundraiser, Home for Dinner, will be held September 22nd at Delancey street. Five Keys is also planning to open another Home Free in the Los Angeles area.

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