No place to go – the homeless epidemic among ex-offenders

A woman in my class was talking recently about how happy she would be to reunite with her two-year-old upon her release.   There was only one problem:  in addition to getting a job and  paying her court costs, restitution and legal fees, she needed to  find a place to live.  In the short-term, she said, matter of factly, they could go to a shelter, no problem. She’d done it before.   But finding something more permanent would be a challenge.

Sadly, she’s far from alone.  A handful of her classmates  also have no permanent residence.  I know this because of the blank stares I get as they shake their heads and tell me they have no address to put on the resumes we’re writing for them.  That’s okay, is my standard response, since the resumes can be put into the  computer system without one at OAR, the re-entry organization where I volunteer.  After their release when they have an address they can add it in.

Too often this never happens.   According to data over at the National Reentry Resource Center:

  • More than 10 percent of those entering prisons and jails are homeless in the months before their incarceration. For those with mental illness, the rates are even higher — about 20 percent. Released prisoners with a history of shelter use were almost five times as likely to have a post-release shelter stay.

It’s a fair  assumption that someone who enters prison without a permanent address often exits it that way. Sometimes family will step in to help out, but that’s more the exception.     Each year close to 700,000 people are released from state and federal prisons.  Another 9 million are released from jails.    Ten percent of that would be as many as 970,000 individuals potentially coming out with no place to go.  

 It’s a frightening thought — because everyone knows how difficult it can be to find work when you don’t have an address.  Without work, it’s impossible to pay for a place to live.  Add to that the fact that many landlords won’t rent to ex-offenders and you get a better sense for why reentry can be a revolving door right back into custody for as many as two-thirds of all offenders.    A study by the Vera Institute for Justice, for example, found that people released from prison and jails to parole who went to homeless shelters in New York, were seven times more likely to abscond within the first month than those who had some type of housing, putting their freedom and their futures in jeopardy.

 That’s why I was heartened to see that Council of State Governments Justice Center has released a new publication that addresses the critical issue of finding affordable housing for the newly released ex-offenders.   You can read and download a copy of  Reentry Housing Options: The Policymakers Guide, here.

I’d also be interested in hearing how others  have successfully managed the housing issue.  Two years ago OAR launched the Beacon Program, which provides 18-24 months of housing, plus employment/career training and educational resources  for a handful newly released felons as they begin to rebuild their lives. 

 How about you, what’s worked in your area?  Or if you’re a former offender what’s worked for you?


Filed under class issues, economy, homelessness, hope for ex-offenders, reentry, reentry resources, starting over, unemployment

5 responses to “No place to go – the homeless epidemic among ex-offenders

  1. ed

    i lived in a ‘catholic worker house of hospitality’ for a couple years. there are nearly 200 of these houses throughout the world, in nearly every major city. they primarily feed the poor, but they also offer housing for the dispossessed. they typically offer temporary housing. i wasn’t a former offender when i lived there, just a volunteer. but they can serve as a stepping stone back into the 9-5 world, if one can find a job in this market.

    • Ed,

      Thanks for the tip. That’s good to know. You’re right that finding a job in this economy remains the bigger challenge for most people.

  2. ed

    each catholic worker house is run differently. they are all independent. you never know what you’re going to get when you walk into one. but they all good people, for sure:)

  3. Pingback: Helping women start over…. « Out and Employed

  4. I know of the problem of homelessness. Like you I work with women prisoners and hear these stories on a weekly basis. Someone is about to be released and still has no place to go. After my first year going to teach at a prison, God moved me and my husband to build a transitional home for those coming out with no place to go. So far, we have helped a few including a mother of two – all three came to stay at the house and after seven months she was able to move to an apartment of her own. She is now a manager at a major chain restaurant and is raising her children on her own. I want to add more houses. Problem is the government funds are almost impossible to get when you want to keep it faith-based. We thank God for the opportunity to help these women. Thank you for your article.

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