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Homelessness, Prisoner Reentry, and Housing Barriers: Strategies That Promote Improved Outcomes

Prison Reentry and Barriers

Homelessness—especially as it relates to incarceration—is not only a public safety issue, but a public health issue. In the US, approximately 700,000 people are released from state prisons, and 9 million are released from county jails each year. When it comes to reentry, housing can be one of the most difficult needs to be met. More than 10% of the previously incarcerated demographic are homeless either before or after imprisonment and release. Unstable or nonexistent housing all heighten an individual’s risk of reoffending and being incarcerated again. Re-entrants (a term for those formerly incarcerated) face specific difficulties in accessing emergency and permanent housing after serving their sentences. With a homelessness risk of 20%, ex-offenders with mental illnesses face an exponentially higher risk of homelessness and housing insecurities which can cause them to re-offend.

The lack of affordable and accessible housing poses problems not only for ex-offenders, but for those with no criminal history as well. Without the proper housing resources, ex-offenders are forced to compete with non-offenders for the same limited resources. Even when reentrants have a home to return to, stable housing is more difficult to come by, especially among those with special needs. Research has shown that almost one fourth of sheltered homeless identified as previously incarcerated within the previous two-year period. Creative alternative housing options for ex-offenders are critical to public safety and public health.

Solutions and Strategies

Earnings and social supports were found to make a significant difference in homelessness and housing instability among reentrants. Social support from family and romantic partners have been identified as protective factors against homelessness and housing instability. However, longer sentences have been associated with a decline in contact with loved ones, making it more difficult for reentrants to maintain that stability. In that vein, infrastructural changes have proven significant. It is critical then for stakeholders to consider the effects lengthy sentences will have upon the incarcerated upon release.

In 2004, the US Department of Justice issued a Guide for Developing Housing for Ex-Offenders, in which the DOJ recommended the involvement of a broad stakeholder group. Under its recent Sentencing Project, New Jersey has successfully reduced its state prison population by nearly 37%, in large part by creating alternatives to incarceration and providing community-based reentry and treatment services. Sufficiently available and accessible housing has been found to significantly diminish homelessness and housing instability. Depending on the severity of the crime, certain reentrants are not eligible for parole. Parole officers can help shelters and transitional housing, especially in the event of an emergency. Many prisoners “max out” their sentences (that is, serve the maximum sentence for their crimes) and do not have access to parole supervision the resources parole officers can offer, so they leave the highly structured environment of prison or jail with no post-release supervision and no preparation. Parolees are up to 36% less likely than other reentrants to recidivate within three years of release, so it is critical for prison systems to establish significant infrastructure for reentry services and treatment, so that parole and community support can be more readily offered and reentrants can access affordable housing and increase housing stability.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, permanent supportive housing has increased 69% from 2007 to 2015. Initiatives such as Rapid Rehousing, Housing First, and Permanent Supportive Housing have worked to move chronically homeless individuals and families in the US into housing. These strategies have helped dramatically decrease the use of jails and emergency rooms for mentally ill reentrants. An understanding of these models is critical to the implementation of promising policy actions, making significant progress on reducing homelessness and promoting overall public health and safety.

About Bridges To Hope

At Bridges To Hope, we provide the guidance they need in the form of a new life. Our work fights the core issues that cause people to recidivate. We believe housing is one of the most integral parts of this mission. We provide tangible items, referrals, and other needed resources that expand community support and encouragement. We also work closely with many other organizations that provide mentoring, job training, leadership skill training, and other key elements of rehabilitation.

Bridges To Hope is proud to be a first point of contact for the formerly incarcerated population of Nebraska. Some leave prison without anyone left in their lives to support them. We offer the reassurance that there will always be someone around for them to assist in whatever ways they may need. While we offer physical tools to help them on their journeys, we’re most proud of our ability to give them the courage to face their new freedom in a sometimes frightening and unfamiliar world.


McKernan, Patricia. “Homelessness and Prisoner Re-Entry: Examining Barriers to Housing.” VOA.

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