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?