Reentry Planning and Services
As we continue to build momentum in our efforts to prevent and end homelessness, communities around the country are faced with the problem of how to deal with the increasingly challenging issue of the intersection of homelessness and criminalization in a successful and cost effective way. People living on the streets, in cars, or staying in emergency shelters are often ticketed or arrested for activities that may be necessary for survival on the streets. As a result, they end up with a long list of violations that can become a barrier to employment, accessing needed benefits, or securing an apartment, moving them no closer to exiting homelessness.
According to the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 10 percent of those in prisons and jails are homeless in the months before their incarceration. For those individuals who suffer with mental illness, the number is higher. In fact, homelessness exacerbates poor health and behavioral health and increases an individual’s contact with the criminal justice system. Local communities have adopted a range of ordinances in response to citizen and business concerns about panhandling, loitering, and camping on public land. Criminalizing acts of survival is not a solution to homelessness and results in unnecessary public costs for police, courts, and jails. Development of alternative approaches should meet both the public’s need for access to public streets, parks, and recreation areas and the ability of people experiencing homelessness to meet basic needs.
Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness identifies the need to find solutions to this problem. Objective 9 is to “Advance health and housing stability for people experiencing homelessness who have frequent contact with hospitals and criminal justice.”
Effective targeted outreach, discharge planning, and specialized courts are proven to help keep people out of jails and to connect people to housing, support, or for those who need it, supportive housing.
Program initiatives at the Departments of Justice, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, and Labor are supporting and evaluating promising practices for facilitating successful community reintegration for people returning from jails, prisons, and juvenile justice facilities. New programs authorized by the Second Chance Act are supporting state and local reentry demonstration projects around the country. These programs and other effective reentry initiatives help to prevent and end homelessness.
The HEARTH Act of 2009 identified the problem of criminalizing people for activities required for survival for those living on the streets and required that USICH “develop constructive alternatives to criminalizing homelessness and laws and policies that prohibit sleeping, feeding, sitting, resting, or lying in public spaces when there are no suitable alternatives, result in the destruction of a homeless person's property without due process, or are selectively enforced against homeless persons.”
In December 2010, USICH and the Department of Justice held a summit in response to the HEARTH Act on the criminalization of homelessness and its alternatives entitled Searching for Balance: Civic Engagement in Communities Responding to Homelessness. City government officials, police officers, business improvement districts, court officials, health providers, Continuum of Care leads, national advocates, federal partners, and people experiencing homelessness all participated in the summit, representing more than 20 communities across the nation.
The summit focused on solutions through policing and outreach strategies, the justice system, seamless systems of care, and coordinated volunteerism. Participants worked collaboratively within those areas to identify policies and practices that treat people experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect under the law, while simultaneously meeting the need to maintain safety and civic order in communities. USICH is finalizing the outcomes of this productive conversation, drafting a set of concrete recommendations on alternatives to criminalizing homelessness, that we will submit to Congress and distribute to states and localities.
A Word from the Experts: An Interview with Jocelyn Fontaine, Research Associate at the Urban Institute
USICH: What has the Urban Institute found to be keys to successful reentry housing programs?
Traditionally, corrections departments have not provided financial support for long-term housing solutions and their budgets are even tighter given the economic downturn. Some social service providers, though, have housing units available and resources in the community to meet the needs of the reentry population through funding from other sources (e.g., U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) or can help returning prisoners navigate the housing landscape and find housing options. Departments of Corrections should be in the business of working directly with these social service providers who have housing resources and/or information on how returning prisoners can access housing. Housing needs to be a significant part of the discharge planning process for the reentry population, particularly for those who have histories of housing instability, severed family ties, or limited means to locate and afford housing. We need to make explicit the linkage between corrections departments and service providers to make sure returning prisoners can find housing and maintain residential stability, which is important for successful reintegration. We need to make sure that both the corrections department and prisoners know there are services and housing options available in the community, beyond just release to the street, which can lead to homelessness for some.
Other individuals need more supports or services attached to the housing. For example, some individuals cycle frequently between the justice system and other public crisis systems. These individuals typically face a myriad of challenges upon reentry, many of which led them to the criminal justice system in the first place. In addition to finding stable housing, some individuals need assistance with finding a job, overcoming educational deficits, getting therapy for mental health issues and substance abuse problems, and surmounting physical disabilities. Therefore, permanent supportive housing programs can be a potential way to help the individuals who cycle between systems break their costly cycle of incarceration and other crises service utilization. Case managers, associated with permanent supportive housing programs, can help them access needed services and resources and can be a cost effective way, when partnered with leaders in corrections, to prevent residential instability for this population.
USICH: What research is the Urban Institute currently working on in relation to prisoner reentry?
The Urban Institute is currently evaluating several programs developed and implemented by the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), an agency that advocates for providing permanent supportive housing for reentering prisoners who have histories of housing instability (homelessness), disabilities, and co-occurring disorders. CSH programs are focused on the subset of prisoners who are most appropriate for supportive housing, that is, frequent users of shelters, the criminal justice system, hospitals and other public crises systems. Through our work with CSH and their collaborations with corrections departments across the country, we hope to show that money spent on permanent supportive housing for the reentry population is a worthy investment.
We want to emphasize that housing needs to be made a priority in the reentry process for officials making decisions at corrections departments around the country. We also hope to further demonstrate the success of permanent supportive housing with better discharge planning as a solution to the problems faced by reentering prisoners with histories of housing instability and disabilities.
USICH: What results have you found thus far from these studies?
In Washington, DC, we completed a study in partnership with the Corporation for Supportive Housing that found that nearly 2000 individuals in DC had at least one stay in the emergency shelter system and the jail system over a period of two years—about 650 of those individuals had encountered both the jail and shelter systems at least twice in two years. This study shows the extent of overlap and “cycling” that some individuals experience to then to make a rough estimate of costs to the criminal justice system. All of this data can be found in the report “Reducing the Revolving Door of Incarceration and Homelessness in the District of Columbia: Cost of Services.” In Ohio, we are evaluating the Corporation for Supportive Housing’s project with the state department of corrections that focuses supportive housing to individuals identified as homeless at the time of arrest or at risk of homelessness upon release who also have serious mental health and substance abuse issues. We released both an introductory report to the Ohio project in 2009 and released an interim report on the work thus far, both of which can be accessed on the Urban Institute website.
My colleagues have studied the housing challenges of reentering prisoners within the last few years with compelling data and recommendations. For example, the Urban Institute’s Returning Home study, directed by Christy Visher (former UI employee) and Nancy La Vigne, finds that individuals exiting prisons rely heavily on their families for a place to stay on their first night out. By implications, if a person has severed ties with family members or wants to find a new social network, finding housing can be extremely challenging especially with limited financial means. For these individuals and those who don’t have housing already lined up before release, it would be very difficult to find a place to stay with no income. Giving an individual a bus ticket and a little bit of money at release is not enough.
Read more about the Corporation for Supportive Housing’s Returning Home Initiative
Read the Urban Institute’s Reentry Roundtable Report on homelessness and reentry
Go to the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center
“If a State is serious about implementing a plan to end homelessness through a State Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH), it needs to have a subcommittee on discharge planning. If there is no one responsible for taking up the initiative of proper discharge planning from jails and prisons, the opportunity to prevent homelessness for this population will be frittered away,” notes Lloyd Pendleton, the Homeless Task Force Director for the Utah Division of Housing and Community Development.
Utah has taken this initiative and problem seriously. Mr. Pendleton and his colleagues understood the increased risk of homelessness for the reentering population, and thus created a Discharge Planning Subcommittee on the State ICH focused specifically on the population and their needs. Since the creation of the 10 Year Plan in 2005, Utah has implemented three programs to assist this population using the Housing First model of permanent supportive housing that has been proven effective at ending chronic homelessness.
The longest running collaboration by the Department of Corrections and social service providers is the Housing Assistance Rental Program (HARP). HARP began in 2005 and has now grown to serve and house over 200 former inmates from the Salt Lake County jail in scattered sites. This program practices inreach by case managers prior to the inmates release to assess their mental health and substance abuse needs and to determine the best housing intervention. Upon entering supportive housing, HARP participants utilized residential services at a higher rate, decreased their need for substance abuse treatment, and gained greater mental health stability according to an evaluation done by the University of Utah.
Since the State of Utah has been running programs like HARP and its successor the Reentry Assistance Program (using the same model) for many years, there have been some challenges. These challenges have been overcome because of both a strong commitment from state housing agencies and a continued understanding that serving this population is extremely cost-effective.
Three key lessons learned and advice from Mr. Pendleton regarding implementing these initiatives and working within the corrections system:
- The first three to four months of transition after release from an institution is by far the most critical time for intervention. During this time, most of these individuals need someone to walk them through the transition step by step. Due to their past, it is very easy to fall back into old habits and networks. The recidivism rate is very high at least partially because most of these individuals know no other way of life.
- Without supportive services including case management and mentors there are far fewer examples of new ways to live outside. It is critical for an individual’s success to have strong and committed partners providing social services and willing to meet regularly with these individuals where they’re living.
- You need an individual in the Department of Corrections that is open to bringing about changes that focus on improving the quality of life for inmates after they leave the institution. With an ally at Corrections, you are able to implement the types of inreach programs that are cornerstones of successful discharge planning which lead to better outcomes in supportive housing. These partnerships have a much greater chance at success with a strong State ICH and a champion for the programs.
Model Program Profile: St. Leonard’s Ministries
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Saint Leonard’s Ministries is a project of the Episcopal Charities of Chicago and provides residential and supportive services for ex-offenders as they transition from incarceration back into society. The program consists of several distinct components:
- 40 beds of emergency housing at the St. Leonard’s house for men and 18 beds of emergency housing for women at the Grace House for Women. Rooms are either single occupancy or shared. Three meals a day are provided and residents have access to laundry, computers, and other important basic services.
- 42 beds of second stage housing for men at St. Andrew’s Court.
- Mental health care, counseling, and substance abuse treatment. All residents receive access to these vital services on site which include relapse prevention strategies.
- Assistance with accessing benefits, community services, and housing placement.
- Job training and education provided at the Michael Barlow Center. Formerly incarcerated men and women have the opportunity to study in an adult high school program, take green building maintenance courses, use a computer lab, work with volunteer tutors, train for culinary careers in the onsite training kitchen, and work with an employment placement specialist.
St. Leonard’s hopes to be able to open transitional single room occupancy housing for women in the coming year.
The recidivism rate of St Leonard’s residents is 20%, compared to an overall state rate of over 50%.
Advice on the challenges of helping this population and tips for overcoming these challenges from the Executive Director, Bob Dougherty:
The main challenge faced by an organization like St. Leonard’s is one of perception of our work within the community. We know how to help our residents with solutions that work, but the community can often have a “not in my backyard” attitude towards the reentering population that is difficult to overcome. It is important to remind key stakeholders that these interventions work and the population we are talking about deserves a second chance. In many cases they actually deserve the first chance that they never had. Another challenge faced by programs like St. Leonard’s is that funding streams are limited; there are more providers and more need than current funds allow and we are not as effective as we’d like to be.
Two steps for successfully changing outcomes for previously incarcerated individuals:
The first step is pretty simple. We involve ourselves in their lives. At St. Leonard’s we make sure our residents know that we care about them and their success. Often our residents come to us with a perspective that no one is going to give them a chance so it isn’t even worth trying. We show them that this isn’t true by giving them a chance ourselves.
The second step is to provide the tools they need to be successful. I can’t stress enough that one of these tools is mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Many of our residents have struggled with addiction their entire adult life: they can’t just wake up one morning and decide to no longer be burdened by it. They need help and a partner to work with them as they get through it, including contingency plans if they relapse. They also need education, job skills, and help accessing benefits.
Tips for other providers on ways to improve a program to help this population:
If you can’t provide all the services you want to, look for organizations in your community who have the resources you need and approach them about a partnership. We have invaluable partnerships with many organizations. A local public high school allows our residents to get high school degrees. We receive clinical help from the Adler School of Psychology and tutors and interns from several nearby universities. Churches and food pantries help us find the food we need to feed our residents. The City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, and the Department of Corrections are all critical to our success as well.
One simple thing to do that we have found really helps is to coordinate with our residents’ parole officers, both before they exit the institution and while they are in our program.
Model Program Profile: Healthcare for the Homeless - Houston Jail Inreach Program;
Location: Houston, Texas
The Jail Inreach program run by Health Care for the Homeless-Houston begins helping Houston’s incarcerated homeless population in the jail itself. Prisoners who have a history of homelessness, mental illness, and/or multiple non-violent incarcerations are referred to Healthcare for the Homeless by the Harris County Jail. Case managers visit with the prisoners up to six or seven times to develop a discharge plan and to build trust. Once an individual is released, a case manager meets them at the gate and helps them through the process of finding housing, qualifying for benefits, and getting continued quality mental health and substance abuse care.
A more than 50% drop in rearrest rates occurred in the population of inmates that were a part of the Jail Inreach Program.
Advice on the challenges of helping this population and tips for overcoming these challenges from the Executive Director, Frances Isbell:
The biggest challenges are the basics. There isn’t enough housing available, notably permanent supportive housing. There also isn’t enough funding available from the state level. The state government tends to push the issue down to the county level, but counties don’t usually have the same level of resources to address the robust need. It actually saves the state money by helping these individuals with critical health care and substance abuse therapy as well as housing and benefits support. These individuals circle in and out of emergency rooms and jail cells, and the best way to stop that cycle is with health care and housing.
Tips for other providers on ways to improve a program to help this population:
The Harris County Jail is a valuable partner in our program. If possible, try to establish a partnership with the local jail in your community as well. The corrections department helps us indentify individuals that would be a good fit for our programs and they coordinate daytime releases so that we can have a case manager waiting at the gate. This pick up is a critical moment for those reentering, as it is very easy for these individuals to go right back to their old neighborhoods and lifestyles. With this coordination, we can get to the individual first and offer them an alternative.
Substance abuse therapy and mental health care are absolutely critical. When prisoners are incarcerated they have access to behavioral health care and medicines that treat mental health disorders, but as soon as they are released that access disappears. In Houston, individuals are not given any extra medication when they leave nor, often, are they given a prescription. It can take four to six months to schedule an appointment through the public health system; far too long for an individual with a mental health disorder to have no safety net. We are able to solve this problem by walking individuals over to our health clinic (which is four blocks from the jail) as soon as they are released.
Other partners can be helpful to providers as well. Case managers can’t do everything, so they need to be experts at finding the resources to help their clients. For us this means working closely with the county government health systems and the local housing providers. There are also specialty courts that have been very helpful in Houston to limit the incarceration of folks who are not serious criminals but who have other treatable problems like addiction and mental health disorders. These courts include a Homeless Court, a Mental Health Court, a VA court, and a Drug Court. Social workers at these courts also link individuals to services.
Collaborating on Alternatives to Criminalization and Ending Chronic Homelessness: Downtown DC Business Improvement District
Criminalizing homelessness without working to house and adequately support the unsheltered population proves to be both costly and temporary, and rarely assists in ending homelessness. Some individuals living on the streets are burdened with mental illness, substance abuse problems, and are in poor physical health, leading to frequent interaction with the criminal justice system. If communities criminalize acts of survival or do not take the initiative to address the underlying causes of the problem, cycling between jails and homelessness will remain common.
One community collaboration addressing these underlying problems and working to end chronic homelessness is the Homeless Services program at the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID). This collaborative approach has three vital partners: a voice for the business community and DC residents led by Chet Grey at the BID; the Downtown Homeless Services Team housed at Pathways to Housing DC and led by Jonathan Ward; and Crisis Intervention Officers (CIOs) from the DC Metropolitan Police Department. The Downtown Homeless Services Team works on the streets identifying individuals who need assistance and connecting them to services before a disturbance arises that might lead to arrest. The team also works with the Crisis Intervention Officers when police are called to the scene of a disturbance to see if there is a viable alternative to arrest. Since the beginning of the program in 2004, there has been a measurable reduction of arrests as well as a reduction of unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness. At that time, there were nearly 300 chronically homeless individuals in the DowntownDC BID; in the last count in January 2011, that number was down to 61.
The Crisis Intervention team is modeled on the Memphis Model of Crisis Intervention and tailored to the DC environment. DC CIOs collaborate daily with clinical social workers at Pathways to Housing DC. Every day Officer Mark McConnell of the DC Metropolitan Police Department is on his mountain bike in the DowntownDC BID, responding to calls. When we spoke to Officer McConnell, he gave us a typical scenario: “I get a call over the radio with a description of the individual and I know right away who it is. Many times I am on the phone with Jonathan as I’m on the way to the scene, knowing that most likely the best option will be for this individual with mental health issues to go to other social services like CPEP (Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program) instead of being arrested.”
The Downtown Homeless Services Team and the CIOs collaborate to address the mental health issues that are a key factor that drives cycling between homelessness and the criminal justice system, by making sure that individuals who need medication have it and have other needed treatment. Many times individuals who have mental illnesses are given only a few days worth of medication upon their release from jail. Without these vital resources after those few days, the same problems that these individuals faced before their arrest arise again. Working with a team of providers to address these needs, the BID has been able to create positive outcomes and find alternatives to criminalization putting people ecperiencing homelessness on the path to stability. This approach is not just cost-effective—it works for ending chronic homelessness and that makes the local business owners very happy. “We are not a program focused on merely the maintenance of a homeless person’s lifestyle—we’re about creating solutions to homelessness,” said Chet Grey, the BID’s director of homeless services.
National Reentry Resource Center: a project of the Reentry Policy Council led by Attorney General Eric Holder, the National Reentry Resource Center serves as a one-stop information center for research and best practices about the needs of the reentry population with toolkits, TA resources and Second Chance Act grantee information.
Reentry Housing Options: Policymakers Guide: from the Reentry Policy Council, a project of the Council of State Government’s Justice Center. This details "Three Approaches to Increasing Housing Capacity for the Reentry Population" – greater access, increasing housing stock, and revitalizing neighborhoods.
NAMI Crisis Intervention Team Resource Center: provides health care, law enforcement, advocacy workers and consumers with the latest information about Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for law enforcement and its success.
The Jail Administrator's Toolkit for Reentry, from the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance
Advocacy Manual, Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness: from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty: main website of NLCHP, which details models for constructive alternatives to criminalization and work being done across the country on this issue. Also provides a model General Police Order for communities or police departments looking to adopt responsible guidance governing officers' interaction with individuals experiencing homelessness.
Mental Health Courts Primer: link to resource document at Department of Justice titled "Mental Health Courts: A Primer for Policymakers and Practitioners."