Overcoming housing barriers after incarceration

Returning citizens face many barriers when they are released from jail. Many did not have a stable source of income when they were arrested and, if they did, most have lost employment by the time that they are released. The vast majority does not have savings with which to procure stable housing upon discharge from a correctional facility. Because of this, when a person is released from jail, he or she is often homeless.

A barrier that case managers face when working with incarcerated and formally incarcerated individuals is that, when a person is incarcerated, he or she is not considered homeless under the definition set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD definition states that a person is considered homeless if he or she is “living in a place not meant for human habitation, in an emergency shelter, in transitional housing or are exiting an institution where they temporarily resided.”

Previously, “temporarily resided” was defined as 30 days but that definition was recently changed to 90 days. An important caveat is that the person had to be in a shelter or a place not meant for human habitation immediately prior to entering that institution. Many previously incarcerated individuals report that shelters are a mirror of the correctional institution and crimes, including theft and violence, occur in these facilities. Because of a history of trauma and abuse, many returning citizens forsake the shelter system and choose to be street-homeless, where they fly under the radar and are not in touch with homeless-outreach workers. Thus, many previously incarcerated individuals are not placed on homeless lists because they are not in the shelter and not documented as living in places “not meant for human habitation.” This makes locating housing options for previously incarcerated individuals very difficult as a HUD definition of homelessness is required for many affordable-housing programs.

To overcome this housing obstacle, PLP case managers work with clients during incarceration and upon discharge. PLP case managers provide medical-case management “behind the walls” and, as a result, can prepare a client for what he or she needs to do to become documented as homeless upon discharge.

PLP case managers discuss the pros and cons of accessing the shelter system at release with clients. If a client chooses to access the shelter system, PLP case managers continue to work with clients in an attempt to decrease barriers and keep them in the shelter. PLP case managers link clients with day programs because clients are often forced to leave shelters early in the morning during all months of the year. PLP case managers provide clients with transportation assistance (tokens), shelter essentials (pad lock, shower shoes) and hygiene items (shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, soap, etc.), as many previously incarcerated individuals’ only source of income is food stamps, and none of these items may be purchased with food stamps.

Case managers also work with clients to link them to vocation services or Supplemental Security Income for disabled clients. By providing this service, the ultimate goal is to see clients permanently housed, whether renting an apartment of their own or in subsidized housing.

Once clients are housed, their likelihood of going back to jail is greatly reduced.