At the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ annual conference on ending homelessness I had the good fortune of attending a lively workshop session titled “Crossing Hard Thresholds: Access to Housing from Jails and Prisons.” The session dealt with the critical topic of preventing homelessness for people exiting correctional facilities. There are currently more than a million people in state and federal prisons in the U.S. and an additional 735,000 people in jails. Research has shown that individuals without stable housing upon exit from jails or prisons are up to seven times more likely re-offend; sometimes cycling for years between jails, prisons, emergency psychiatric care, and homelessness. As John Fallon, the session moderator from the Corporation for Supportive Housing noted, this cycle is extremely costly for state and local governments. He shared a real case study of Richard, a 42-year old who had spent the previous 21 years cycling between jails, mental health centers, and homelessness at an average annual cost of $72,910.
The NAEH session highlighted innovative programs aimed at ending homelessness and criminal recidivism among ex-offenders. Adam Murphy spoke about the reentry problem solving court in Lafayette, IN that offers prisoners early release in exchange for participating in an employment and case management program. The success rates of the program increased markedly once prisoners were given the opportunity to live in supportive housing rather than halfway homes or transitional facilities.
In Oakland, Sage Foster of Abode Services started the Oakland PATH Rehousing Initiative (OPRI). OPRI provides housing services and case management to people living in homeless encampments or exiting the San Quentin State Prison. The program has a housing retention rate of more than 80% and the Oakland Housing Authority (a Moving to Work site) has decided to fund additional vouchers to expand the program.
In New York City, the Fortune Society operates a 114 unit supportive housing facility for former prisoners, 50 of those units are set aside for people experiencing homelessness. Residents of the facility report very high satisfaction with their units and the program has high housing retention and low criminal recidivism rates. The parole officer responsible for the facility’s residents has the lowest recidivism rate in the entire state of New York!
USICH commends the efforts of local communities to develop supportive housing for people with a history of homelessness and incarceration and encourages other communities to adopt similar programs. We expect this to become an increasingly pressing issue for communities as state and local budget cuts and overcrowding concerns lead to decreases to jail and prison populations.