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Preventing Homelessness Among People Leaving Prison

NCJ Number
Nino Rodriguez; Brenner Brown
Date Published
December 2003
12 pages
This paper addresses the issue of homelessness among returning prisoners and describes Project Greenlight's housing assistance program for returning prisoners.
Three main factors that contribute to the problem of homelessness among people leaving prison: (1) the same social and economic conditions that lead to homelessness among the general population; (2) the barriers erected by their involvement with the criminal justice system; and (3) government agencies and community organizations disengagement with the problem. However, national-level policymakers are beginning to see the connection between homelessness among ex-offenders and recidivism and are beginning to support initiatives that address homelessness among ex-offenders. Local efforts to prevent homelessness generally focus on three principle objectives: (1) to prohibit offenders leaving prison from being homeless; (2) to provide housing as part of aftercare services; and (3) to provide comprehensive transitional services that include housing. Examples are offered of programs in various States that focus on these objectives. For example, the Hawaii Paroling Authority will not release an inmate without an approved place to live. In another example, the Illinois Department of Corrections attempts to find transitional housing and short-term employment for inmates through its Placement Resource Unit. Following this review of eight programs that focus on at least one of the principle objectives listed above, Project Greenlight is described. The original goal of the New York-based Project Greenlight was to address the spectrum of reentry needs of inmates during their last months of incarceration. A group of 348 men participated in the Project Greenlight program offered at the Queensboro Correctional Facility. Participants attended mandatory workshops that focused on job readiness, practical skill development, and cognitive-behavioral tools. Project Greenlight's focus slowly turned to preventing homelessness and its efforts to secure housing for reentry inmates demonstrate how a housing assistance program can rely on existing resources within a community. Without creating or subsidizing new housing, Project Greenlight successfully helped most of the men find housing. The method used by Project Greenlight to match ex-offenders with appropriate housing can be applied in any community, and consists of identifying inmates most at risk of homelessness, conducting housing intake interviews, and referring inmates to appropriate transitional housing. The success of this program suggests that mandatory housing assessment and assistance could greatly reduce homelessness and recidivism among ex-offenders. Endnotes