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
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
- 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.