In the United States, ex-prisoners are more vulnerable to homelessness than those who have not been incarcerated. According to a report published by the Vera Institute of Justice, 30-50% of all people under parole supervision in the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco are homeless. The authors of the report, Nino Rodriguez and Brenner Brown, note that there are “…three main factors [that] contribute to and complicate homelessness among people leaving prison. First, ex-offenders face the same social and economic conditions that lead to homelessness among the general population. Ex- offenders returning to the community also confront barriers to housing associated with their criminal justice system involvement. Finally, there is a lack of ownership of the problem among government agencies and community organizations.” (The report can be found at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/vera/209_407.pdf).
Ex-offenders, especially those with felony charges on their records, face barriers when trying to secure housing and employment. BAN THE BOX is an organization campaigning to end employment discrimination against those who have been convicted or imprisoned by abolishing the box on employment applications that asks job seekers to disclose any past convictions.
In addition, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, most ex-convicts are STILL unable to live in public housing after their release from prison due to archaic rules established in the 1990s. The War on Drugs gave birth to federal rules that do not allow former criminals with specific drug charges (for example producing methamphetamines) to reside in public housing. Many local housing authorities and states impose additional restrictions on public housing applicants. These rules lead to the exclusion of ex-prisoners from public housing. For more on the relationship between mass incarceration and homelessness, check out Dr. Michelle Alexander’s exceptional book, The New Jim Crow (2012).
People who are experiencing homeless are more likely to be arrested or re-arrested. In a 2002 ethnographic study of incarceration rates of homeless men in San Francisco and St. Louis, researcher Teresa Gowan found that: “…crimes of desperation, aggressive policing of status offenses, and the close proximity of many ex-cons created a strong likelihood of incarceration and re-incarceration. Conversely, for jail and prison inmates, time inside consistently eroded employability, family ties,and other defences against homelessness: several of the men had become homeless for the ﬁrst time directly following release from a carceral establishment…each trajectory reinforced the other, creating a homelessness/incarceration cycle more powerful than the sum of its parts, a racialized exclusion/punishment nexus which germinates, isolates, and perpetuates lower-class male marginality.”
The link between incarceration and homelessness is troubling. There are many government and non-government agencies and organizations working to assist ex-prisoners in securing housing, employment, and supportive services. Project Greenlight in New York, COMPASS in Rhode Island, and Tennessee Bridges in Tennessee are three of the many organizations across the country trying to implement innovative approaches to decreasing homelessness for ex-prisoners.