Several factors can lead to homelessness: a lack of affordable housing, high costs of living, and even, sadly, mental illness. Another factor that contributes to homelessness, which is often overlooked, is incarceration.
Many individuals serve their jail or prison sentences and cannot find work or a place to stay due to the stigma attached to ex-cons, and they either relapse into crime or they wind up homeless. A new program funded by the MacArthur Foundation aims to address this issue in four American jurisdictions.
The Just Home Project
Homelessness itself, unfortunately, is illegal in some states and can retroactively send people back to jail, continuing a cycle that’s both harmful to the people involved and costly to cities. Also, research shows that unhoused people have a higher chance of run-ins with the police. In Los Angeles, unhoused people are 10 times more likely to have run-ins with police than housed people.
“Homelessness, housing insecurity and participation in the criminal justice system are just simply deeply intertwined, in part because of the criminalization of homelessness itself,” said Kelly Walsh, a principal policy associate at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and Research to Action Lab.
A project designed and funded by the Macarthur Foundation and coordinated by the Urban Institute will provide resources and technical expertise to end the jail-homelessness cycle in four US jurisdictions. The Just Home Project will launch in South Carolina’s Charleston County, Oklahoma’s Tulsa County, South Dakota’s Minnehaha County, and the city and county of San Francisco. $20 million in funding is available in these areas to combat homelessness.
A place to land and get back on their feet
$5 million of the funding will go toward each area for them to address their unique issues with homelessness. Each of these jurisdictions has its own problems to face. San Francisco, for instance, has an extremely high cost of living, while Charleston and Tulsa have higher rates of incarceration.
One problem that exists across the board, however, is the seemingly simple issue of finding a place to live for individuals coming out of jail or prison. It is often a parole requirement that ex-cons have a place to stay once they’re out of prison, but it can be hard to arrange that while in prison or find one once they’re out. Without a place to stay, these individuals might violate their parole and become reincarcerated, or they might become resigned to homelessness and even return to crime.
This is why $15 million of the MacArthur funding is specifically allocated toward acquiring or developing housing units in these jurisdictions, making sure that people can have a place to stay once they get out of jail or prison. It’s a first step in the right direction toward getting these individuals safe and back on their feet.