Coordinating services for former inmates returning to their communities
Re Entry Programs provide a network of legal, health and social services for former inmates returning to their communities. Barriers to employment, housing and social services are everywhere and without coordination programs designed to help are sometimes working at cross purposes.
Although former inmates are not a protected class, they do suffer from discrimination that deprives them of the opportunity to become productive citizens and deprives all of us of the skills and energy they can bring to their families and communities.
10 actions that you can take in your community to expand housing opportunities for returning citizens and others with criminal backgrounds
There's a lot of things that advocates can do at the State and National levels to reduce mass incarceration and provide resouces for returning citizens. Most of that activity will be behind closed doors until after the Fall Elections. In the meantime there's lots to do locally to help your community prepare for increasing numbers of returning citizens who need housing.
1. Talk to local opinion leaders about the impact of the end of mass incarceration. Meet with editors, bankers, bar association, clergy, real estate interests...anyone who has a stake in the community to explain the need to create jobs and housing for returning citizens. Reform of mass incarceration has slowed as the election year has progressed, but reform efforts should resume in 2016. Responsible parties have kept quiet about their efforts for fear of public rebuke. The only way to progress is to change the public's mind about returning citizens. That means getting opinion leaders to understand and speak out. Find high profile spokespersons who have experienced criminal charges and returned to public life.
2. Review the tenant selection plans or ACOP (admission or continuing occupancy plan) for Federally assisted housing in your county and then meet with providers to explain the new HUD guidance. HUD has done a lousy job of reaching out to PHAs and private owners. You can offer to help them change their policies and create pilot projects. What about Tax Credit properties and USDA properties?
3. Test Federally assisted housing to determine how persons with a criminal background are being treated when they show up to apply. Use real homeseekers as testers. Are they being verbally discouraged from making application? Be on the lookout for cases where “one strike” policies have a disparate impact on protected classes. Seek information about a “subprime market” that takes advantage returning citizens. (THANKS Wendy)
4. Support households with criminal backgrounds to “Challenge Every Denial”. Having to defend every denial will get tiresome and policies (or at least practices) will evolve.
5. Provide assistance with enpungement. Find partners in the legal community and create a regularly scheduled expungement clinic for persons with criminal records. Model: University of Akron monthly clinic. Cost may be an issue.
6. Work with housing providers and social service agencies to create incentives for owners to accept returning citizens as a part of family reunification. JFS maybe using TANF funds or private foundation funds?
7. Educate landlords. Housing providers are afraid of being held liable for criminal activity if they rent to persons with a criminal background. They are also afraid of being charged by police for maintaining a nuisance property. Owners think they are “safe” with a one strike policy when, in fact, they are now more vulernable. HINT: a landlord attorney could be a helpful resource. Include this training in the MHAs orientation for HCV landlords. Share your training materials with advocates in other communities.
8. Talk to City and County law enforcement agencies about the problem of criminalization of tenancy. Challenge practices like enforcement of private trespass orders; nuisance call ordinances; and law enforcement of health and safety codes. Landlords could be partners in these discussions.
9. Explore ways that City/County can protect some or all of the returning citizens from discrimination. A local ordinance that protects family members from being terminated when a returning citizen rejoins the household would be one example.
10. Join RHINO and stay in touch with others working on rental housing issues around the State. Even where there is innovative work going on, there's not much publicity because advocates and housing providers are afraid of a NIMBY backlash. RHINO is a way that good ideas can flow from one community to another. RHINO can help find and develop materials for carrying out these local tasks. Join and ask!