By Allison Bunker
A recent new report from the Prison Policy Initiative provides the first estimate of housing insecurity in the 5 million formerly incarcerated individuals in the US. The report breaks down the prevalence of homelessness by demographic area and begins to assess some causes and solutions to the problem.
People formerly incarcerated are found to be 10 times more likely to be experiencing homelessness then the general public. Homelessness is found to be more closely linked with people that have been incarcerated more than once. People who have been incarcerated more than once become a part of the revolving door of homelessness, and they are much more likely (13 times more likely than the general public), then people incarcerated once (7 times higher risk then the general public) to be experiencing homeless. Furthermore, they find that 15% of incarcerated people are experiencing homelessness in the year before they are in prison. Both the revolving door of homelessness, and high rates of people who were experiencing homelessness in the year before they were incarcerated can be explained in part by the criminalization of homelessness. Criminalization of homelessness happens through laws that make many common survival behaviors of people experiencing homelessness criminal.
Generally speaking people of color and women who were formerly incarcerated are at a higher risk for homelessness post release. However, if we break down the population of formerly incarcerated people experiencing homelessness into sheltered and unsheltered we can illuminate more differences. Men more generally are unsheltered, and Black and Hispanic men and women are more like to be unsheltered than white men and women. We can conclude along with other findings about high unemployment rate among black women that they in particular have been excluded from resources post release.
The report also takes a look at people in marginal, or “at-risk” housing, and finds that being in marginal housing is three times as likely as being unhoused in the general population, and yet data specially for people who are formerly incarcerated is not available. The report finds collecting more information on formerly incarcerated populations in marginal housing to be of upmost importance in understand to true scope of the crisis.
One reason the report points to, to explain housing insecurity in formerly incarcerated people is that property owners can implement screening criteria that relies on criminal record checks to exclude formerly incarcerate people from renting. Experiencing homeless also has huge consequences on the lives of formerly incarcerated people. Given that post release is the time for someone to become unhoused, the housing insecurity present also contributes to other issues when transitioning out of prison, for example finding a job.
Moving forward the report finds it necessary to address the problem of unhoused formerly incarcerated people head on, arguing that having any one experiencing homelessness is not good for everyone. Systems are needed within states to help people find housing post release, as well as banning the box of housing application. Instead of criminalizing homeless it is also important to have more social service options for those experiencing homeless, so they do not end up back in prison.