One of the many challenges you may face post-incarceration is finding a place to call home. Not everyone has a supportive family to welcome them, and it is estimated that one in fivepeople returning from prison are unhoused. In urban areas, this number can be even higher. Aside from limited funds and resources, individuals recently released from incarceration may also face additional restrictions and discrimination that limit where they can live.
Housing is an important aspect of an individual’s mental wellbeing, stability, and success post-incarceration. Those who can secure stable housing are more likely to find a job and less likely to return to the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task, and there are multiple obstacles that prohibit individuals from attaining the security they need. The issue does not stop at homelessness; according to the Prison Policy Initiative, housing insecurity is three times more common than homelessness for individuals formerly incarcerated.
Though someone may be able to find a bed in a shelter, they will not have the security that a permanent address provides such as the ability to get a job, legal identification, or healthcare services.
Public housing is an option presented by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide affordable housing for low-income families, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities. HUD subsidizes states and building owners to provide affordable housing opportunities, using your income to determine eligibility and rent. To see if you are eligible for public housing, contact your local Public Housing Agency (PHA).
The Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly known as section 8, distributes vouchers to help with rent. Eligibility is determined by income, citizenship, family size, and other factors depending on the state or city. Your local PHA can help you determine eligibility and complete applications.
Opting for private housing will be the most expensive option unless it is through a subsidized property owner, so make sure you are financially stable before applying. For most applications, you may be asked to provide proper documentation such as ID, driver’s license, social security number, or proof of income.
If you are need of something quickly, shelters can provide a temporary place to sleep while you are looking for other options. Check here to find a shelter near you.
Many people return home from prison without sufficient savings, or a job lined up. If this is the case for you and you are struggling financially, there are many government resources aimed at helping previously incarcerated individuals.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program aims to help low-income families with monthly cash assistance. The federal government provides grants to each state, who then distributes the cash payments to eligible low-income families with children. For more information, check your state’s requirements and application process.
If you are not eligible for government assistance programs, you may want to consider reaching out to local churches or nonprofit groups. Your probation or parole officer is a useful resource here, and they can refer you to assistance programs. Different states have taken different initiatives to help with the issue. For example, New Orleans has an updated screening process that makes it easier for individuals previously incarcerated to find housing, and Seattle and Washington D.C. have implemented bans on landlords requesting felony convictions on their applications.
As housing insecurity and homelessness post-incarceration continue to perpetuate the revolving door between release and recidivism, there are a few reform efforts. The Ban the Box campaign is a national effort to support the hiring and homing of the formerly incarcerated. Ban the Box refers to the question on housing and job applications that request individuals to divulge their criminal past. Housing First is an approach from the National Alliance to End Homelessness that views housing as the foundation for life improvement and is a necessity that should be satisfied before individuals are able to focus on other issues. Some companies have taken the Second Chance initiative and provide equal opportunity to those with a criminal background.
You can show your support for change by lobbying in favor of these policy reforms or joining grassroots efforts that assist justice-involved individuals.