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Where Some of the Most Housing-Challenged Philadelphians Find Help

BY Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, on NextCity,

"Finding stable, affordable housing is rarely easy, no matter who you are. Doing so after years behind bars can be nearly impossible. Between 70 and 90 percent of people returning from prison move in with a family member or loved one, according to Carrie Pettus-Davis, a leading reentry expert and the director of the Institute for Advancing Justice Research and Innovation, a criminal justice think tank at Washington University in St. Louis. That’s mainly because of the numerous obstacles returning citizens face in finding their own home, ranging from financial hurdles to laws restricting where people with certain criminal histories can live, to issues of discrimination and bias. When landlords are willing to overlook criminal histories, returning citizens typically lack almost everything else that’s desired in a prospective tenant, including good credit, steady work and a bank account. Brown says he stayed put at his aunt’s because rental security deposits, often in the thousands, were “out of my means,” and because he didn’t have a credit history, which, he notes, “is really like bad credit.”

"Tens of thousands of citizens return from prison to Philadelphia each year. According to the city’s Reentry Coalition, an alliance of nonprofits and government agencies run by the mayor’s office, between 55,000 and 60,000 residents are currently under supervised parole or probation. The difficulties they face in finding stable housing isn’t just a disheartening aside of the reentry process — it dramatically impacts recidivism. More than half of the city’s returning citizens are reincarcerated within three years — and homelessness doubles the risk, according to the Institute for Advancing Justice Research and Innovation. “Any instability or insecurity in housing impacts recidivism by creating much more stress for the individual,” says Pettus-Davis. “In the end, that stress ends up contributing to a worse outcome.

And that outcome has effects that are felt across a city, from neighborhoods experiencing higher rates of homelessness, to courts bearing the cost of seeing the same defendants again and again. If Philadelphia’s reincarceration rate could be lowered by 25 percent, the city would save a projected $26 million annually.

In Philadelphia, there is growing recognition of the role housing plays in reducing recidivism and making communities safer. One of the city’s most successful reentry programs, STAR (Supervision to Aid Reentry), has developed a multifaceted approach to tackling the housing challenge. STAR’s work offers insight into the complexity of the housing issue and is an experiment that other cities are watching closely as they too seek to reduce incarceration rates and strengthen communities.

Founded in 2007 by two federal judges and run by the judges with support from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, STAR is designed to connect participants to job opportunities, internships, professional courses, skills training, family therapy, couples counseling and housing. It is voluntary and accepts around 40 former offenders at a time. The participants agree to a higher level of supervision, including biweekly in-court check-ins, in exchange for comprehensive wrap-around case management. The STAR team also includes representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other criminal justice agencies, and law clerks, volunteer tutors, and social workers. The program has no substantial dedicated funding. Rather, STAR team members each commit a slice of their job time within their own agencies and organizations to put toward this program. Once participants finish 52 weeks without any infractions (such as missing meetings with parole officers, failing to show up in court, driving without a license), a year is knocked off their parole or probation." Read more about this issue and the programs that are trying to help.


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