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"'They Are Usually Borderline Homeless': Exploring the Nexus of Homelessness, Housing Instability, Successful Reentry, and Long-Term Reintegration" (by Emily I. Troshynski and Carolyn Willis): Review 1

Published onOct 27, 2023
"'They Are Usually Borderline Homeless': Exploring the Nexus of Homelessness, Housing Instability, Successful Reentry, and Long-Term Reintegration" (by Emily I. Troshynski and Carolyn Willis): Review 1

Vote: Publish pending minor changes

No “major” changes need to be made to the manuscript. I see no significant problems with the theoretical framing, the interpretation of data, or the methods used.

The data from which conclusions were drawn are comprehensive and unique. The manuscript makes important contributions to the pivotal role of housing in successful reentry.

Below, I have listed the recommendations for revisions and questions for clarification. The first four recommendations are the ones I consider most pressing.


1) Though it does appear that HOPE for Prisoners is, indeed, a wonderful organization that employs a very committed staff, there are moments throughout the manuscript that read more like marketing materials for the program rather than insights/conclusions drawn strictly from empirical (i.e., “objective”) data. While the authors do not need to shy away from discussions of the perceived strengths of the program/its staff, they should consider tempering the ultimate conclusions they draw about the program/staff to better align with what they can support with the data they have.  At the same time, the authors may not have encountered evidence of problems/ weaknesses with the organization itself (or specific examples of disgruntled hopefuls) that does not mean that these are not possibilities, nor that problems/dissatisfaction can be ultimately ruled out. (As one caseworker mentions on page 22 in the manuscript, “if we haven’t done anything… we may never see them.” Would those who do not return after an initial contact be captured in the numbers the organization serves?).

  • One problem with marketing-type statements is that they can’t be supported with evidence, at least systematically. For example, on page 26, the authors conclude that the desire of at least some hopefuls to “give back” “underscores a sense of community and empowerment that extends beyond immediate reentry needs.” Is that what is being demonstrated by the expressed desire to give back? How pervasive is this desire amongst Hopefuls? Is this unique to this organization’s clients (compared to participants in other reentry programs)? I realize the authors may not be able to answer these questions with their data, but they cannot extend perceptions of the value and import of Hope’s program (from clients and/or caseworkers) to suggest that these perceptions are, in fact, an empirical reality.

  • The same occurs with discussions of the hopefuls, though with less frequency than discussions of the organization. There is a fine line between highlighting the tremendous perseverance required of the hopefuls to be successful in their reentry and romanticizing them.

2) Throughout the manuscript, there are summative statements that occur so regularly that, about midway through the manuscript, they become overwhelming, feeling repetitive and almost insistent—as if the writers are worried that the audience will fail to grasp the gravity of challenges they are describing or that they will be unable to see how the specific example being discussed connects to the larger argument being made by the authors. Rather than add importance or urgency to the arguments, the frequent summaries are distracting and make it more difficult to parse the various unique findings/evidence. Consider consolidating summative statements into intro/conclusions of various sections rather than peppering them throughout.

  • As illustrations…

    • In paragraphs in the section “Relevant Local-Level Data,” the following sentences are included at the ends of three of four paragraphs: “These figures underscore the pressing need to address this escalating issue and implement effective strategies to combat the persistent challenges faced by individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.” “These statistics shed light on the scope of homelessness in the county and the differing circumstances faced by those experiencing homelessness in terms of shelter availability (Stebbins, 2022).” “Understanding these structural and economic root causes is essential in developing comprehensive strategies to address homelessness and facilitate successful reintegration for individuals transitioning out of incarceration.”

    • The entire paragraph beginning with “Comprehending housing access involves navigating a multifaceted landscape influenced by diverse intertwined elements…” on page 18 contributes little new to the manuscript as it’s a general summation that has been articulated at multiple other points in the manuscript. It distracts from the important points being made in the surrounding sections.

  • Many of these summative statements would be more appropriate to include in the discussion section rather than the findings section.

    • In addition, it makes more sense to integrate the discussion of the impact of the pandemic on housing in the finding section rather than the discussion section. The authors may also want to consider if some of the other parts of the discussion section (largely those covered in page 31) may be more appropriate for integration into the findings section.

3) The concept of “housing insecurity” seems to me to be a useful way to characterize the housing experiences of the “hopefuls,” but the concept doesn’t appear until page 5 and then is scarcely referenced in the rest of the manuscript (though it does seem synonymous with “borderline homeless,” a term used more frequently in the manuscript). Based on the authors’ description of the concept, it aptly captures the varied, though consistently precarious, housing situation of many of the hopefuls. I would consider referencing this concept sooner and weaving it throughout the manuscript.

4) Page 5: “For previously incarcerated persons, access to affordable and safe housing options is scarce. Further, barriers to securing housing include federal mandates (i.e., eligibility requirements) as well as state and local rules and regulations (i.e., zoning and ordinances).”

  • This could use more explanation—I don’t know that a reader unfamiliar with reentry barriers would know what “federal mandates” are nor able to discern why these particular federal/state/local practices make it difficult for people with records to access housing. (It also might be worth mentioning that private entities also regularly conduct background checks and that this is largely condoned by the state.)

5) The “Findings 2” section is dense--consider breaking out the various findings in this section into separate findings with their subheadings—this will make it easier for the reader to identify and track each of the contributions this study makes. As the manuscript is currently organized, the sub-findings regarding housing get lost (especially with the frequent inclusion of general summative statements mentioned above.)

6) It might be helpful to explain more clearly what an “expired” sentence means and how it relates to longer time served in jail/prison and homelessness upon release.

7) Page 4: The paragraph beginning with “Access to available housing is a fundamental necessity that plays a crucial role in promoting successful…” seems out of place. The section in which it is currently included is an overview of recidivism broadly. The following section, hones in housing and recidivism specifically—consider integrating this paragraph into the following section.


8) Page 3: “…possibility of returning to prison due to various reasons such as committing a new crime, engaging in minor offenses, violating technical requirements, or having their parole revoked”

  • Is parole revoked for reasons other than those included in the preceding part of this sentence? If so, what other reasons?

9) Page 3: “Through the synthesis of empirical evidence and personal experiences…”

  • What are “personal experiences”? (I would characterize results from interviews, focus groups, ethnographic observations, etc., as empirical evidence, as well.)

10) Relevant Local-Level Data section: Is there data on the intersection of homelessness and incarceration?

11) Description of Participants: the description of clients paragraph could use further elaboration.

  • What does it mean to be in the DOJ program (they were incarcerated in the federal system?) versus “other programs”?

  • “These individuals were enrolled in various programs based on specific program requirements.”—who determines enrollment in which program? HOPE? The referring corrections system?

  • Are the DOJ/other programs different programs within the Hope program?

  • What are the “other programs”?

    • Considering that the table explicitly distinguishes the DOJ program participants from the “other program” participants, there must be some rationale for this distinction between participants. What is that rationale? And is it essential for this study to make such a distinction—does being in one program or the other have some importance to understanding housing challenges? If not, is it necessary for this study to divide the group this way?

  • Is the population of the participants in HOPE’s program reflected of the reentering population for the state in terms of race? ethnicity? gender?

12) Table 2: What do “Need #1”, “Need #2”… refer to in the “service needs” section? Is this the percentage of people who identified housing as their primary (secondary, tertiary) need? Same question for immediate needs—housing…what does “Need #1/#2/#3” refer to?

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