Homelessness among formerly incarcerated people is at a crisis point, according to the Prison Policy Initiative
According to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative, homelessness among the 5 million formerly incarcerated people in America is ten times higher than it is for the rest of the country. Included in the report are statistics broken down by race and gender, and the report also notes those who are living in hotels and motels, in essence one step away from being homeless.
This report is the first of its kind, using data sourced from a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey while also building on existing scholarship showing that past incarceration and homelessness are correlated. The report uncovers that homelessness is especially high in a few demographics:
- People who have been incarcerated more than once
- People who were recently released from prison
- Women and people of color
Those who cycle in and out of the prison system, termed “the revolving door of incarceration,” are over 13 times more likely to be homeless than the general population, and around twice as likely than those who have gone to prison only once.
These numbers are not assisted by the fact that many cities and or states around the country are criminalizing the homeless, or making the state of homelessness itself a crime through vagrancy and loitering laws.
The report also makes it clear that formerly incarcerated Black men face unsheltered homelessness at a higher rate than any other male demographic and formerly incarcerated Black women face sheltered homelessness at a higher rate than any other female demographic.
At its conclusion, the report states that its numbers probably understates the problem because there is no comprehensive way to gather data on the nearly 600,000 people who are released from prison each year. The report recommends that states emphasize a “housing first” strategy, which makes housing for the formerly incarcerated a priority and then offers other services after housing has been secured. It also recommends four strategies in total to help to curb homeless among formerly incarcerated people:
- States need to create clear cut systems to help recently released people find homes
- Ban the box on housing applications
- End the criminalization of homeless people
- Expand social services for the homeless, focusing on “Housing First”