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"They are usually borderline homeless": Exploring the nexus of homelessness, housing instability, successful reentry, and long-term reintegration

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Published onFeb 09, 2024
"They are usually borderline homeless": Exploring the nexus of homelessness, housing instability, successful reentry, and long-term reintegration
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ABSTRACT

For previously incarcerated persons, affordable and safe housing options are scarce. Barriers to securing housing include federal mandates (i.e., eligibility requirements) as well as local rules and regulations (i.e., zoning and ordinances). When housing is available, disclosing criminal history on applications impacts individuals’ chances to rent (Philips & Spencer, 2013). A lack of a consistent rental history, no personal and/or employment references, and securing capital to cover security deposits are added challenges. Since parole rules direct ex-convicts not to associate with others that have a criminal record, living with partners, friends, and family members may not be an option. Research within this article was conducted as part of a Department of Justice (DOJ) Second Chance Act (SCA) Grant awarded to HOPE For Prisoners (HFP). Experiences with homelessness and housing instability highlight the need for continued research that captures the lived experiences of previously incarcerated persons as well as the experiences of reentry programming staff persons serving them. Data within this article is derived from 2 years (2020 – 2022) of intake forms (i.e., client risks, needs, and service plans), case managers’ notes about tracking client homelessness, focus group conversations with reentry programming staff, and interviews with post-incarcerated clients. Based on a triangulation of these data, the purpose of the article is to describe housing challenges and opportunities in securing housing as well as to highlight programming efforts to remove barriers to accessing housing. Given the number of formerly-incarcerated persons returning home to homelessness, lessons gleaned from this article are helpful in understanding the importance of securing permanent housing including the impact of housing on successful reintegration.


Between 1983 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in Nevada increased by 391%. Also, since 2008, the length of time individuals spent behind bars expanded by 20% (+ 4.2 months). The state’s incarceration rate of 763 per 100,000 is among one of the highest in the nation, surpassing the national average of 698 per 100,000. In this state, 23,000 people are incarcerated in prisons each year and 38,000 are booked into local jails (Sawyer & Wagner, 2020). Notably, 79% return to the county where the research was conducted and closer to 25% return to prison in less than a year (Nevada Department of Corrections [NDOC], 2021).

Individuals with prior incarceration experiences may face the risk of reincarceration for various reasons, including committing new crimes, engaging in minor offenses, violating technical requirements, or experiencing parole revocation. For instance, during this research project, it was revealed that a number of participants were sent back to “the yard” because their “community status” at NDOC was revoked. Reported revocations occurred for several rationales, such as failure to adhere to curfew restrictions, engagement in arguments or insubordination, institutional rule infractions, and neglecting to maintain proper cleanliness or make their beds correctly.1 These experiences underscore the significant obstacle of understanding returns to prison and real rates of recidivism. Indeed, it is important to note that official data at various government levels (i.e., local, state, and federal) often lack comprehensive tracking of specific reasons behind recidivism rates, leaving it unclear whether individuals return primarily due to new criminal charges or parole violations and insubordination. This lack of clarity regarding reasons for reincarceration is a noteworthy challenge within the criminal justice system.

Additionally, there is a lack of information regarding prevalent adversities faced by formerly incarcerated individuals, such as rates of homelessness. It is also unclear whether there are pre-release planning initiatives in place to assist justice-involved individuals in securing housing upon their reintegration into society. As a significant number of individuals return home after being incarcerated, there is a pressing need to gain a deeper understanding of their reentry journeys, particularly how their housing situations influence their prospects of successful reintegration. In order to effectively address these and other challenges, it is crucial to explore the realities previously incarcerated persons face including what facilitates and hinders their successful transition back into society.

With the purpose of answering some of these questions, data presented throughout this article is part of a federally funded two-year evaluation of the Southern Nevada Adult Reentry Program: HOPE For Prisoners (HFP). This article is driven by a central objective: comprehending the intricacies of reentry challenges, success, and their impact on recidivism. It delves into the unique experiences of individuals who face a return to homelessness upon release, documenting firsthand accounts of housing insecurity and the delicate state of being "borderline homeless." The exploration sheds light on the dynamics surrounding housing and homeownership as crucial components in the journey toward successful reintegration.

To set the stage for the forthcoming findings and discussion, this article begins with a concise yet comprehensive overview of existing literature on mass incarceration, reentry, and recidivism. From there, findings will establish connections to research on reentry experiences, specifically highlighting the pivotal role of accessing and securing housing. This paves the way to acknowledging a clear connection between homelessness, effective reentry processes, and successful reintegration. Data presented in this article contributes to the growing understanding of the documented challenges faced by formerly incarcerated individuals during reintegration. Leveraging experiential knowledge, the article enriches this discourse with insights into potential policy considerations. Through a synthesis of empirical evidence, our aim is to provide valuable perspectives that illuminate the intricate facets of reentry issues, guiding future policy decisions with informed insights.

Review of Research on Reentry and Recidivism

Since the 1980s, incarceration in the United States has increased to unprecedented levels where, in 2014, there were about 2.25 million persons locked up in local jails, state, and federal facilities. This figure, without data from private prisons, equated to roughly 698 per 100,000 residents and is five times higher than other comparable countries (Walmsley, 2016). Additionally, roughly 2.1% of the U.S. population, or close to 7 million persons in 2014, were under correctional supervision on parole or probation. Even though these 2014 figures have decreased to approximately 419 per 100,000, as of September 2021, the United States incarceration rate was still one of the highest in the world. With the escalation of mass incarceration, there has been a corresponding rise in the proportion of individuals who were previously incarcerated and are now returning home.

In the United States, each year, an estimated 700,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons, while approximately another 9 to 10 million individuals are released from county jails and return home (Sawyer & Wagner, 2020). This means that, every week, more than 10,000 individuals who have recently been incarcerated are released from both state and federal prisons. Even though there is some variance to their collective reentry experience, a common similarity is that reentry is challenging: It is difficult to come home and reintegrate back into society while also trying to secure housing and employment (Schanzenback et al., 2016). Recently released persons’ risk of recidivism and reimprisonment is often indicative of their successes associated with their reentry journey.

Recidivism, or the rate at which previously incarcerated persons return back to jail/prison, is touted as one of the main performance measures of the U.S. justice system (Council on Criminal Justice, 2021). The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS, 2017), in analyzing recidivism trends, notes that, depending on time-frame since release, 68 to 77% of prisoners released will be reincarcerated and two-thirds will likely be rearrested within three years. Research summarizing these BJS data (Antenangeli & Durose, 2021) suggests that most previously incarcerated persons, 54 – 58% depending on the year, are rearrested for public order offenses, a broad category that includes driving under the influence (DUI), disorderly conduct, and weapons violations.

Additionally, persons released at age 24 or younger are 64% more likely to be reincarcerated at year five (56.8% of a national cohort) compared to those released at age 40 or older (36.3% reincarcerated at year 5). Also, those convicted of property crimes are most likely to be rearrested (78.3% over 5 years) (Durose & Antenangeli, 2021; La Vigne, 2021). Further, previously incarcerated persons with mental health and co-occurring substance use disorders are at a significantly higher risk of reimprisonment only 1 year following their most recent release (Hunter et al., 2022; James & Glaze, 2006). Given these figures, it is important to consider the impact of criminal justice reforms and community programs that aim to lower recidivism rates while providing avenues for successful reentry.

Due to the significant impact of mass incarceration, a substantial number of individuals are returning to their communities and face heightened risks of rearrests and reincarceration. To comprehend effective pathways for successful reintegration, it is crucial to acknowledge the factors that contribute to the reduction of both initial imprisonment and reimprisonment rates. Among these, housing emerges as a critical necessity that plays a paramount role in lowering the likelihood of both outcomes.

Access to Housing, Housing Insecurity, and Homelessness

Access to housing is an essential requirement that significantly contributes to fostering successful reintegration and lowering rates of recidivism. Undeniably, there is a “bidirectional relationship between homelessness and incarceration” (RAND Corporation, 2022) where incarceration increases the likelihood of homelessness while homelessness increases the likelihood of incarceration (Cusack & Montgomery, 2017; Hunter et al., 2022). For example, research on justice-involved individuals who received housing post-release experienced substantial reductions in rearrests and reimprisonment (Listwan et al., 2018; Thomas et al., 2020) and spent 40% less time in jail compared to those who did not receive housing (Aidala et al., 2014). These figures highlight the positive impact of providing housing to justice-involved individuals upon their release.

Even so, a pressing concern emerges as the vast majority of formerly incarcerated persons encounter substantial obstacles when attempting to access and secure housing upon their return home. Lower estimates note that more than 10% of previously incarcerated individuals are homeless (Council on State Governments, 2016). Other reports have indicated that rates of homelessness among formerly incarcerated persons stand at 203 per 10,000 making them nearly 10 times more likely to experience homelessness compared to the general population (Couloute, 2018). Further, women are more likely than men to be homeless; persons of color are more likely than white people to be homeless; and people who have been incarcerated more than once are twice as likely than those who had been incarcerated only once to be homeless (Metraux & Culhane, 2004; Remster, 2017).

Recent research has adopted the comprehensive term “housing insecurity” to describe the exceptionally high rates at which formerly incarcerated individuals are denied access to stable, permanent housing. This term encompasses the multifaceted challenges and barriers they encounter, highlighting the pervasive nature of the issue and its detrimental impact on their reintegration into society. For example, housing insecurity includes those individuals that are homeless (105 per 10,000 formerly incarcerated), living in shelters (98 per 10,000), as well as those living in marginal housing (367 per 10,000) options akin to couch surfing, renting a room in a hotel, motel, or subletting a short-term room within a house. Based on these statistics, the number of housing-insecure formerly incarcerated individuals is three times higher. Hispanic-identified persons are more likely to be living in marginal housing as are men and older formerly incarcerated persons. Even though they are experiencing acute housing insecurity and are “just one step from homelessness” (Couloute, 2018, p. 1), these formerly incarcerated are not counted as homeless.

Formerly incarcerated persons face significant challenges when it comes to accessing affordable and safe housing options. These barriers are often rooted in federal mandates, such as eligibility requirements and policies like “one-strike” rules,2 which can discourage individuals with records from pursuing public housing. Federal laws can further hinder access to public housing by imposing restrictions on those with specific drug offense convictions, preventing them from seeking assistance for certain time periods post-incarceration. Even in states that have implemented “ban the box” laws aimed at reducing discrimination based on criminal history, some federal housing programs still mandate the disclosure of criminal backgrounds during the application process.

State and local regulations, including zoning ordinances, play a significant role in creating obstacles to housing for individuals with criminal records. Some of these regulations go as far as imposing “lifetime bans” on those with specific prior convictions, rendering them ineligible for housing assistance or entry into certain housing facilities. For example, many housing providers, whether in public or private sectors, routinely perform background checks on potential and current tenants.3 Furthermore, in many private rental scenarios, landlords have the discretion to select tenants, giving them the power to deny housing to individuals based on their criminal history.

The over-reliance on criminal records to screen potential tenants means that, when housing is available, disclosing a criminal history on applications negatively impacts an individual’s chance to rent (Philips & Spencer, 2013). A lack of a consistent rental history, limited personal and/or employment references, and securing money to cover security deposits are added challenges. Moreover, since several parole rules direct ex-convicts not to associate with others that have a criminal record, living with partners, friends, and family members may not be an option. These realities, coupled with affordable housing shortages, further excludes formerly incarcerated persons from accessing housing (see National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2018).

Since research on housing instability consistently highlights a clear connection between homelessness and recidivism (Lutze et al., 2014), understanding the rates of homelessness and the challenges of housing insecurity among formerly incarcerated individuals is crucial, as these factors significantly elevate the risk of arrest and reincarceration. Recognizing these connections emphasizes the significance of addressing housing challenges as a central strategy to disrupt the cycle of incarceration and foster successful reintegration.

Method

As highlighted in the preceding introduction and research review, the pressing concern of high incarceration and recidivism rates in the U.S. and Nevada underscores the immediate necessity for a thorough exploration of the reentry process. To gain comprehensive insights, it is crucial to delve into the firsthand accounts and lived experiences of formerly incarcerated individuals returning home. These narratives provide valuable perspectives to inform and enhance more effective reentry strategies and support systems for those who have been previously incarcerated and involved in the justice system.

Research within this article was conducted as part of a Department of Justice (DOJ) Second Chance Act (SCA) Grant awarded to HOPE For Prisoners (HFP). Data within this article is derived from: 2 years (2020 – 2022) of HFP intake forms (i.e., client risk, needs, and service plan); case managers’ notes about client homelessness; focus group conversations with case managers; and interviews with post-incarcerated clients. Drawing on a triangulation of this data, the article aims to delineate housing challenges, explore opportunities for securing housing, and spotlight HFP programming initiatives aimed at eliminating these formidable barriers to housing.

After describing this reentry organization, relevant local-level data on homelessness and housing insecurity are included. This information is offered as context for the structural opportunities and barriers participants encounter post-incarceration. Data utilized within this article is described as well as main research questions and coding schemes. Then, main findings suggest that navigating homelessness, reentry success, and long-term pro-social reintegration are interconnected where, “all clients” are considered to be “borderline homeless,” a term that is more nuanced than “housing insecurity” yet aptly captures the varied yet consistently precarious housing situations experienced by all clients as they reintegrate. Based on this stark reality, we conclude with thoughts on what reentry programming and public policy might look like when we assume that all returning persons are borderline homeless.

Research Site Location: HOPE For Prisoners

HOPE for Prisoners (HFP) is a non-profit organization located in Clark County, Nevada. It was founded in 2009 by Jon Ponder following his release from federal prison. HFP has since established itself as a prominent reentry organization, serving around 600 clients each year. Individuals engage with HOPE through diverse channels, such as referrals from the courts, parole and probation officers, correctional facilities, local jails, or self-referrals. Upon expressing interest, potential participants attend a general orientation session where they are provided with an overview of the 18-month program. Thereafter, an intake assessment is conducted to discern individual needs, followed by participation in the 40-hour leadership workshop.

The primary eligibility criterion for program participation is justice-involved status, with a preference for individuals possessing extensive criminal and incarceration histories. This preference is rooted in the recognition that these individuals often contend with prolonged marginalization in areas such as employment, housing, and education. Once selected, all individuals must complete the leadership workshop to official enroll as clients in the program. Enrolled clients benefit from comprehensive case management services and are assigned a dedicated case manager and mentor for the duration of the 18-month program. This support system plays a vital role in assisting clients as they navigate the intricacies of reentry.

HFPs reentry model is centered around community transformation, aiming to instill “hope” in justice-involved individuals and their families. The organization provides long-term mentoring, employment, vocational, and educational training, and maintains partnerships with various community entities, including law enforcement agencies. HFP's comprehensive approach seeks to empower individuals with the necessary tools and support for successful reintegration. With a strong emphasis on empowering clients "where they are at," HOPE for Prisoners creates an environment where justice-involved individuals can “discover hope” during their reentry journeys.

Notably, those who avail themselves of HFP's services are referred to as "hopefuls" rather than clients, underscoring the organization's commitment to placing each individual at the core of case management and reentry programming. This approach highlights the significance of personalized support and recognizes the unique needs and aspirations of each and every hopeful seeking to reintegrate into society.

By offering evidence-based reentry services to formerly incarcerated persons, HOPE provides avenues that enable hopefuls to reintegrate back into society. Due to the success of HOPE For Prisoners’ hopefuls, this reentry program has been awarded several federally funded grants. For example, evaluations of a cohort of over 500 clients found high rates of stable employment (64%) coupled with remarkably low rates of recidivism (6.8%) post 18-months (Troshynski et al., 2016). Recent data evaluated for the Second Chance Act grant (Troshynski et al., 2022) found that, after 1 year, and with 140 “high-risk” clients served, only two were reincarcerated on new charges, six were reincarcerated on parole technical violations, and ten lost their community status at the NDOC transitional housing facility and were sent back for rule violations. In total, 18 clients (or roughly 12.9%) were reincarcerated but for a range of reasons common to reentry experiences. Due to these accolades and achievements, HOPE For Prisoners has been described as a leading community-based reentry program.

HFP actively collaborates with various community entities to facilitate stable housing opportunities for individuals, irrespective of their background. These collaborations address the specific needs of those navigating the reentry process, acknowledging the importance of housing in successful reintegration. Partnerships with private owners willing to offer stable housing options have yielded positive outcomes. In terms of funding, HFP has secured multiple grants from federal, state, and local agencies, which are instrumental in providing housing resources. Looking ahead, HFP aims to expand its collaborations by partnering with local jails and state facilities to offer pre-release services that focus on mitigating transitional challenges, with a particular emphasis on securing housing prior to each individuals release.

Relevant Local-Level Data

Statistics presented here underscore the need to address the escalating issue of homelessness and implement effective strategies to combat this persistent challenge. In 2018, local state-level data revealed that 7,544 persons in the county experienced homelessness. This number is down 12% since 2014. While the rates of homelessness have shown a decline, the very real issue of chronic homelessness remains a challenge. Chronic homelessness refers to individuals who have experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who have faced repeated episodes of homelessness within a year. These individuals often confront additional complexities such as mental health issues, substance use disorders, or physical disabilities, further exacerbating the challenges they face in finding stable housing and achieving lasting stability.

During 2019, within Nevada, there was a troubling 19% increase in the chronic homeless population, marking a consistent upward trend over the years. As a consequence, there has been a concerning 55% surge in chronic homelessness since 2016.4 In the county where this research took place, the number of homeless individuals on any given night totals slightly over 6,000 which translates to a rate of 27.6 individuals per 10,000 people. Out of this population, 56% are classified as homeless and unsheltered, meaning that they lack access to safe and stable housing options, while the remaining 44% are classified as homeless but sheltered, indicating that they have access to some form of temporary or emergency shelter (Stebbins, 2022).5

Conclusively, the primary causes of homelessness in the research site location are attributed to unemployment, followed by substance abuse, mental health issues, family conflict, illness or medical problems, and a scarcity of affordable housing. Notably, among previously incarcerated persons, the ability to afford rent emerges as a main concern, further exacerbating the risk of homelessness. According to national data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (2018, p. 159-160), in Nevada, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $966 per month. To afford rent and utilities without exceeding 30% of their income on housing, a household would need to earn $3,222 per month or $38,660 annually. Based on a full-time work schedule of 40 hours per week and 52 weeks per year, this equates to an hourly wage of $18.59. Unfortunately, it is worth noting that during the same period, the average minimum wage in Nevada was only $8.25 per hour. These figures highlight the significant disparity between housing costs and income levels, underscoring the challenges faced by individuals in securing affordable housing.

These statistics offer valuable insights into the scope of homelessness and the diverse circumstances faced by homeless individuals, especially concerning shelter availability. Importantly, this project is the first to document the intersection of homelessness and incarceration. Understanding the structural and economic root causes is important, as this knowledge is essential to developing comprehensive strategies to address homelessness and support the successful reintegration of individuals transitioning from incarceration to community.

Description of Participants

HOPE For Prisoners Case Managers: During the two-year grant period, seven case managers6 from HFP participated in a total of five focus groups. All the case managers identified as female. Their ages ranged between 25 and 50, with an average age of 38. Two were single, while the rest were either in a relationship or married. Case managers at HOPE exhibit diversity, with three identifying as White, one having a Hispanic or Latina background, and one self-identifying as Black. Among them, three are proficient in two or more languages, and three have attained graduate degrees. As of the grant's conclusion in December 2022, case managers had been actively overseeing hopeful caseloads for a duration ranging from two and a half years to four and a half years.

Additionally, the majority of case managers have extensive experience in various capacities within HOPE, including volunteering, mentoring, conducting research, and being alumni of the program. This diverse and dedicated team brings a wealth of expertise and personal connections to their roles at HOPE. Three case managers, notably, attributed their strong commitment to working with HOPE and supporting hopefuls to their own personal experiences with the criminal justice system. This shared experience with the criminal justice system provides case managers with a unique perspective and empathy, enhancing their ability to understand and address the needs of the hopefuls they serve.

On average, case managers are responsible for managing a workload of approximately 40 to 53 client cases per month. This indicates the significant level of responsibility and dedication required in supporting and aiding a substantial number of individuals seeking reentry services. Case managers play a crucial role in ensuring that each hopeful receives the necessary attention, guidance, and support throughout their reintegration journey. HFP case managers discussed how this is the “work they are intended to do” and that they “have been placed at HFP to continue (their) journey to help others have a better life” (Troshynski et al., 2022, p. 35). Comments like, “I want to help this population have a smooth transition back in the community”, “I love what I do!” and I have a “passion for helping” justice involved individuals were common over the two-year evaluation period.

HOPE For Prisoners Clients: Throughout the duration of the grant, Hope for Prisoners extended reentry support to around 648 individuals. These individuals were enrolled in various programs based on specific program requirements. Enrollment decisions are made through an assessment of need and risk scores at in-take, involving discussions among case managers and the HOPE program director. For the purpose of this article, these programs will be referred to as the Department of Justice (DOJ) program and Other program, which encompasses non-DOJ programs. The DOJ program includes the 18-month HFP program and all available reentry resources and services available as well as detailed case management of all DOJ clients. Other programs consist of court-mandated programs which might only include the completion of the leadership workshop or a couple of classes, workforce-only training, or mentor-only provisions.

Compared to hopefuls in the Other non-DOJ reentry programs offered by HOPE, clients participating in the DOJ program were “medium- to high-risk” to reoffend (based on the Nevada Risk Assessment Scale [NRAS]), had multiple conviction histories (i.e., 2 or more), and had current or prior conviction histories that included at least one violent crime. Because of their histories, DOJ clients were incarcerated in state and federal systems and were released on parole. The overall total number of clients served, as well as their demographic information, are presented in Table 1. These figures also represent the intersectional identities within the reentering population of the state of Nevada.


Table 1. Description of HOPE for Prisoners Participants

January 1, 2020, through June 30, 2022

Total Clients

DOJ Clients

Total Male

Total Female

Total DOJ Male

Total DOJ Female

Number Served (2020 - 2022)

639

245

38.3%

483

75.6%

156

24.4%

188

76.7%

57

23.3%

Age Range (years)

18 to 71

19 to 69

18 to 71

20 to 69

19 to 69

21 to 58

Average Age (years)

38.03

37.42

38.14

37.7

37.67

36.47

Race (self-identified):

American Indian/Alaskan Native

6

2

4

2

1

1

Asian

10

5

8

2

3

2

Black/African American

209

32.7%

79

32.2%

181

37.5%

28

17.9%

70

37.2%

9

6.3%

Did not disclose

4

0

2

2

0

0

Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

10

5

7

3

3

2

Mixed/Multiracial

58

19

40

18

13

6

Other

44

17

34

10

15

2

Unknown

20

5

16

4

4

1

White/Caucasian

278

43.5%

113

43.1%

191

56.4%

87

55.7%

79

42.0%

34

59.6%

Ethnicity (self-identified):

Hispanic

149

56

113

36

45

11

Non-Hispanic

484

75.7%

188

76.7%

366

75.8%

118

75.6%

142

75.5%

46

80.7%

Did not disclose

6

1

4

2

1

0

Marital Status:

Co-habitating/Domestic Partner

26

9

20

6

9

0

Divorced

74

29

49

25

21

8

Married

55

22

44

11

17

5

Separated

38

17

28

10

12

5

Single

431

67.4%

166

67.8%

333

68.9%

98

62.8%

127

67.6%

39

68.4%

Widowed

11

2

7

4

2

0

Did not disclose

4

0

2

2

0

0


As indicated in Table 1, the age of participants in the study spanned from 18 to 71 years old. Among those enrolled in the DOJ program, their ages ranged from 19 to 69 years. Overall, it was observed that men tended to enroll at a younger age compared to women. The average age of all HFP clients was calculated to be 38.03 years, while the average age for DOJ specific clients was slightly lower at 37.42 years. Similar to the age distribution, male participants exhibited a higher average age compared to female participants. When considering all HFP programs combined, the largest represented racial groups were White/Caucasian (43.5%) and Black/African American (32.7%).

This trend was also observed among participants specifically enrolled in the DOJ program, indicating a consistent pattern across the different program categories. Around 54.6% of males and 55.7% of females identified themselves as White/Caucasian. Additionally, 35.7% of males and 17.9% of females identified themselves as Black/African American. When specifically considering participants in the DOJ grant, 40% or more of both males and females identified as White/Caucasian. Furthermore, more than 75% of participants in all programs, including the DOJ program, identified as non-Hispanic. Similarly, over 60% of participants across all programs identified themselves as single, regardless of the specific program they were enrolled in.

Description & Analysis of Data

This article highlights conversations about homelessness and reentry that occurred with seven case managers and twenty-four clients utilizing services at HOPE For Prisoners. Over the course of two years, case managers were interviewed individually and participated in five focus groups, each lasting a little over 1 hour. Semi-structured questions were used to engage in conversations about 1) short- and long-term goals of the HFP reentry program, 2) programming for client risk and recidivism, 3) defining and measuring client success, 4) tracking organizational and client success and challenges, and 5) challenges associated with access to housing. Clients at various stages in the HOPE program, which included different periods in months post-release, were also interviewed. The goal was to interview 20 “successful” hopefuls that did not return to prison and 20 hopefuls that returned to prison. At the time of writing this article, the 20 “successful” interviews were completed with only four “returned” hopeful interviews completed.

For the initial “successful” cohort, staff members employed a random selection process to identify actively participating hopefuls within the program. Subsequently, case managers proactively approached these clients to gauge their interest in participating in the research project. This subset of clients were deemed “engaged” in the program by virtue of their “successful” involvement in various HFP activities such as life skills classes, counseling services, vocational training, and gaining employment. In contrast, the supplementary cohort of four “returned” hopefuls consisted of individuals who did not participate, either due to reincarceration, recommitment, or a lack of contact with the program. Drawing on HFP staff interactions with clients during their incarceration or subsequent reintegration into the community, individuals within this cohort, akin to the first group, were invited to partake in the research project. They were offered the opportunity to be interviewed by the evaluator (and lead author), allowing for a discussion about the challenges they faced and their perceived successes despite reimprisonment. In sum, these semi-structured conversations explored barriers, successes, and goals at various time frames, shedding light on how HOPE reentry services and resources influenced their experiences.

Interviews lasted anywhere between 19 to 57 minuets long. With permission, all of these conversations were recorded, all participants were de-identified, and data were transcribed into Word documents for future qualitative analysis. Transcribing all interviews took around 70 hours in total. True verbatim style, as recommended by Troshynski and Bejinariu (2021) was utilized, which captures both the contest and nuances of speech, including pauses, filler words (e.g., “um”, “uh”, “er”), stutters, emotions (e.g., crying, laughing, emphasizing), and background noises. To enhance transcript quality and consistency, time-stamps were added at the start and end of each interview question. In cases of unclear or inaudible parts, notes were made with the time and location (e.g., “inaudible at X:XX”) so that transcripts could be meticulously reviewed again by research team members, thus ensuring accuracy and alignment with original audio recordings.

Research methods for this project are primarily qualitative and ethnographic. While ethnographic methods have been associated with the practice of interpretive sociology and socio-cultural anthropology, a significant body of work has emerged in the use of ethnographic methods to understand everyday realities associated with law and justice (Reeves et al., 2013). These methods provide useful frameworks for gathering and analyzing secondary materials as well as collecting, transcribing, and organizing qualitative data (Onwuegbuzie et al., 2009). Thus, this study employed various methods for data collection, including interviews, field notes, and memos, aimed at identifying initial themes within each focus group and interview.

Analyzing the qualitative data was done by the lead author and others on the research team and involved utilizing coding techniques (see Charmaz, 2006; Creswell, 1998; Esterberg, 2002; Feldman, 1995). Transcripts underwent open coding to identify and organize concepts related to “homelessness.” Thematic coding followed, grouping open codes into final codes linked to experiences with homelessness across contexts, and provided deeper insights into a grounded concept associated with how all reentry clients are “borderline homeless.” Axial coding established connections between main thematic categories, delving into relationships across original codes (i.e., homelessness associated with barriers and success). For deeper precision, selective coding was employed, drawing on Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) framework for constant comparative analysis across codes. Then, to present a coherent narrative, pertinent quotes were assigned to selective codes and ordered by impact. Lastly, quotes used in this article were rigorously reviewed by both authors and other research team members to ensure accuracy.

Exploring Homelessness and Housing Dynamics: Impact on Reentry, Recidivism, and Long-Term Integration

An analysis of this triangulated data uncovers the complex web of challenges related to housing and homelessness in the context of reentry. These difficulties span multiple dimensions, from the pervasive obstacles individuals face in accessing affordable and stable housing, to the high rates of homelessness and urgent housing needs requiring an immediate focus. Further analysis uncovers an intricate journey of navigating homelessness, a path fraught with adversity and opportunities alike. Within this matrix, we uncover the pivotal role that housing plays in shaping expectations of successful reentry, as individuals strive to establish stable lives. Equally significant, findings uncover the profound impact of housing on recidivism and enduring success of long-term reintegration efforts. Through these interconnected themes, we hope to illuminate the intricate dance between housing, reentry, and the broader fabric of societal well-being.

Before addressing qualitative findings, it is essential to grasp a broad overview of HFPs clients and participants of this DOJ study, particularly focusing on homelessness rates and related service needs. This initial findings section outlines data reflecting participants experiences, which serves as a foundation for the subsequent exploration of qualitative findings. Then, the following thematic findings highlight the intricate dynamics of reentry for hopefuls and their case managers, shedding light on the challenges posed by unstable housing, current homelessness, and borderline homelessness. Amidst these hardships, findings also underscore the attainability of reentry “success” and shed light on the overarching influence of structural barriers connected to recidivism.

Findings 1: Rates of Homelessness and Service Needs

In providing reentry services, HOPE for Prisoners prioritizes clients’ current and immediate service needs as a part of their reintegration process. The first interaction with a hopeful includes in-take forms, an enrollment interview, and providing as many resources as HOPE has at that moment. Case managers talked about how they prioritize the hopeful and their current situation and immediate needs on a case-by-case basis and that they check in and reevaluate the housing status of the client at every single meeting. These activities, case managers believe, are what encourages the client to stay enrolled in the 18-month program and “keep coming back.” Case managers continuously strive to understand the client “where they are at,” including how they are feeling, what they might be experiencing during these interactions, and address challenges and acknowledge successes. For HOPE case managers, these moments are crucial to creating an up-to-date case plan that will help the hopeful be successful on their reentry journey.

Since HOPE provides both pre- and post-release reentry services, participants complete in-take and are either enrolled while incarcerated (pre-release) or while released in the community (post-release). Table 2 highlights rates of homelessness and service needs as articulated by clients of HOPE for Prisoners at in-take. This data represents the first ever efforts to capture information on reentry, focusing on the intersection of homelessness and incarceration in Nevada. As noted in Table 2, over 48% of total client enrollments occurred at the pre-release stage. Yet, for DOJ clients served, 64.9% were enrolled while incarcerated and at pre-release.

Table 2. Rates of Homelessness and Service Needs – Requests for Housing

January 1, 2020 through June 30, 2022

Total Clients

DOJ Clients

Total Male

Total Female

Total DOJ Male

Total DOJ Female

Number Served (2020 - 2022)

639

245

483

156

188

57

Age Range (years)

18 to 71

19 to 69

18 to 71

20 to 69

19 to 69

21 to 58

Average Age (years)

38.03

37.42

38.14

37.7

37.67

36.47

Homelessness/Housing Needs:

Currently Homeless (Q#4)

189

29.5%

84

34.3%

130

26.9%

59

37.8%

59

31.4%

25

43.8%

Service Needs (Q#6) – Housing

167

26.1%

73

29.7%

116

24.0%

51

32.7%

56

29.7%

17

27.8%

Need #1 (Q#6)

61

23

35

26

15

8

Need #2 (Q#6)

48

23

40

8

19

4

Need #3 (Q#6)

34

18

29

5

17

1

Immediate Needs (Q#7) – Housing

156

24.4%

63

25.7%

116

24.0%

40

25.6%

52

27.7%

11

19.3%

Need #1 (Q#7)

65

26

45

19

21

4

Need #2 (Q#7)

42

19

34

9

16

3

Need #3 (Q#7)

27

14

21

6

13

1

Service Location

Pre-release (Institution)

309

48.4%

152

62.0%

233

48.2%

76

48.7%

122

64.9%

30

52.6%

Post-release (Community)

278

91

212

66

64

27

Did not disclose

52

2

38

14

2

0

Table 2 highlights the rates of self-reported homelessness, and a ranking of reentry service needs as well as immediate needs among Other and DOJ program participants at in-take.7 Service and housing needs are systematically recorded and ranked, with “1” indicating the most urgent priority. This ranking system enables the assessment of needs and facilitates the real-time prioritization of service delivery, allowing for the immediate resolution of any pressing issues on the first day of in-take and assessment. As noted, the percentages for individuals who were currently homeless vary from 29.5% to 34.3% depending on the program; 26.9% and 37.8% depending on gender; and 31.4% and 43.8% depending on the program (DOJ) and gender combined.

Moreover, more than 25% of participants across all programs and need categories (ranging from need 1 to need 3) identified housing as their top-priority service requirement, often ranking it as their primary and immediate need, with “employment” frequently listed as a secondary priority. On average, a higher proportion of males indicated housing as a service need, while a larger number of females (approximately 40%) reported being currently homeless. According to these reported findings, an average of 34% of DOJ participants reported currently experiencing homelessness. Across all DOJ clients, 19.3% of women identified an immediate need for housing while 27.7% of men reported an immediate need for housing.

These figures stress housing as a crucial service requirement, with over 25% of participants across all programs and need categories identifying it as a pressing concern. Furthermore, a significant proportion of HFP clients, especially those who identify as female and are part of the DOJ program, are currently grappling with homelessness. This underscores the critical need to address housing challenges in the reentry process. These data provide context to the following qualitative thematic findings associated with access to housing, homelessness, and impacts on reintegration.

Findings 2: Understanding Access to Housing, Navigating Homelessness, Expectations of Successful Reentry, and Impacts on Recidivism and Reintegration

Regarding the findings mentioned above about rates of homelessness, case managers were asked about the percentage of clients in their caseloads who are currently homeless. Their responses varied, spanning from “at least half” to “more than 60% but not 70%” and even “at least 80% of my guys are homeless.” This range reflects the unique intersectional factors at play within each case manager’s clientele. This variability is influenced by factors such as the client’s history of violent or sexual offenses, their transitions between department of corrections and private facilities, and their previous adherence to facility rules.

Overall, and upon release, HOPE clients tend to have stable housing via transitional or sober facilities. Yet, for those that are “in the community,” if they are “living in the community and not in the NDOC transitional housing,” then they are “usually borderline homeless.” In order to understand how hopefuls and their case managers navigate borderline homelessness, homelessness, successful reentry, and broader pro-social reintegration, much time was spent discussing the need for “stable housing.” This encompassed discussions about the availability of beds in local transitional housing and private sober living facilities. All case managers agreed that “a majority of clients have this form of stable housing” and estimated that approximately “75%” of hopefuls are released to transitional housing.

Within this research site location, “stable housing” also refers to housing that hopefuls acquire through their personal networks with family members and friends. Yet, case managers express that these living situations are “not as stable as transitional” housing options directed by organizations. Again, case managers agreed that only “approximately 20% of clients” have stable housing within the community through family or friends. At the pre-release stage, in the event that an individual is not able to secure stable housing, they are often left to “expire their sentence” before they are released from prison. This often means that several incarcerated persons without access to housing serve even more time in prison and are not provided with the opportunity to be placed on community supervision.

Conversations about “stable housing”, “transitional housing” and “client expiration” were common in all focus groups and interviews. Examples for each are highlighted throughout and focus on access, homelessness, reentry success, and impacts on recidivism and long-term reintegration overall. Together, these thematic sections help us better understand how individuals reintegrate into society after incarceration, particularly in terms of homelessness and reentry success, as those markers rely heavily on access to affordable and stable housing.

Theme 1. “There’s a lot less bed availability”: Limited Access to Stable Housing

Financial limitations, prior substance abuse, mental health difficulties, and physical disabilities frequently impede access to housing (Hamlin, 2020; Keene, Smoyer, & Blankenship, 2018). Case managers noted these limitations. They began by acknowledging that hopefuls who are released from NDOC usually have some sort of access to housing options and that, “it’s rare” that a client exits a correctional facility with no housing options. This availability of housing options for clients inside NDOC is provided through a parole specialist that works with pre-release justice involved persons. This specialist helps them with housing plans but is limited because the state only contracts with “two approved vendors.”

Additionally, HOPE’s pre-release planning phase also includes housing plans. Case managers work to figure out what types of stable housing options are available per client. These can include working in partnership with other local non-profits like the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, connections with sober living facilities, as well as the very limited transitional living facilities available. Everyone agreed that there is still a need for housing and that, “if we had more,” and “if NDOC had more approved vendors,” troubleshooting for housing issues would be much easier.

Nevertheless, there are instances when clients are released and find themselves with nothing upon their return – neither a home nor any available housing options. For example, depending on the season, month, and time of the week, transitional facilities and local non-profit partners will not have any beds available. As one case manager mentioned, “During the summer, a lot of people stay homeless. But when it’s cold, everyone wants to live inside.” Agreeing with this, another mentioned,

“With this time of the year [December 2022], when it’s colder, with the sober living homes, um, a lot more people relapse. There’s a lot less bed availability.”

This passage illustrates the added role that seasonality plays in housing availability. This precariousness faced by individuals upon their release from incarceration underscores the vulnerability of formerly incarcerated clients who may find themselves without a home or housing options, especially during certain times of the year when transitional facilities and local non-profit partners do not have available beds.

Working with limited access to beds and to housing were the number one noted concern discussed by case managers. Since there is an urgent need for stable housing options and a noted impact of housing availability on individuals’ chances of reentry success, case managers were keen to note other related obstacles like “helping clients secure enough money to pay for a bed or a room.” Branden8, a male currently living with his partner and children, talked about how HOPE helped him financially: “They did help me apply for rental assistance. They did send my dad a check of $400 for rent.” The testimony from this participant highlights the tangible impact of such support. He details how HOPE provided financial assistance, recognizing the program's role in overcoming housing-related barriers to successful reintegration.

Clients experience housing insecurity both upon release and again when exiting a transitional facility, if applicable. Additionally, clients with physical and mental health needs are limited in accessing beds at transitional facilities, particularly if they are not able to “climb onto a top bunk” or if they are “not comfortable in a large group.” In fact one case manager that was previously homeless discussed these shelter and housing limitations:

“I had the option to go into one of the shelters but because I was plus-sized I was denied one of the beds because I was over the weight limit to be on the top bunk.”

Clearly, there are recurring challenges of housing insecurity that clients face both upon their release and after exiting transitional facilities. Individuals with physical and mental health needs encounter additional difficulties in accessing beds emphasizing the multiple layers of barriers encountered in securing stable housing. These elements collectively contribute to the risk of homelessness during reintegration. Recurring themes of stable and transitional housing emphasize housing’s role in the reentry process, while subsequent themes explore their effects on homelessness, recidivism, and long-term reentry success.

Theme 2. “We have a lot of clients riding the bus”: Navigating Homelessness

Recognizing the fluid progression of clients through different housing arrangements within the 18-month HFP program is imperative. After release, some clients initially transition to NDOC housing and subsequently need immediate housing upon leaving. Alternatively, clients in sober living arrangements may seek rapid housing solutions after maintaining sobriety for 90 to 120 days, dependent on the facility and client plan. The key takeaway is that navigating homelessness is subject to variability but remains a continuous focus for clients and case managers.

The following quotes underscore the pressing issue of clients returning to homelessness upon reentry, exposing gaps in transitional support for these individuals. Case managers talked about how, sometimes, clients do show up homeless:

“There are individuals who come here and don’t have anything. But that’s because they’re expiring their sentence and haven’t had a parole specialist or anybody on the inside to facilitate the transitions with them.”

Another case manager confirmed, “We’ve had people show up with nothing. No housing. Nowhere to go.” Case managers mentioned how some clients prefer to live in a car, if they can access one, until they are able to find their own housing options. As one described, “Clients tell us, ‘No, no, I’m safer in my car’, or ‘It’s more hygienic in my car’. So those are some of the challenges we have.” In highlighting instances where clients lacked any form of housing, this predicament is attributed to inadequate support during the transition from incarceration to reentry. Instances where clients choose to live in cars due to safety and hygiene concerns highlight the intricacies of their housing situations and the difficulties they face in securing appropriate accommodations.

For example, one female client, Deanna, was living in her car because she was unable to access affordable housing. Even with the resources provided at HOPE, at the time of the interview [December 2022], there were no available beds or rooms to rent. Deanna explained, “I’ve actually applied for housing and I’m on the list. But I’m like number three-thousand-and-something.” She expressed that she did not have enough money to secure a down payment for an apartment at a location that would rent to an ex-felon:

“Yeah. I mean I’m still, um, in the process of trying to find stable housing so that way I can get my kids back.”

When asked if she wanted to talk about her current living situation, she described how the windows in her car “do not work” and “they’re all down halfway” and that she “doesn’t feel safe” in her car at night. When asked if she had a safe place to park, particularly at night, Deanna said,

“Yeah, Melissa [pseudonym], she’s like my prison mom or whatever. She looks out for me. She helps me. Sometimes I get to shower over there [Melissa’s house], eat a little something, sleep sometimes. Other than that, I’m in my car or running errands.”

She continued,

“It’s just been a struggle with jobs and, um, like, my income, you know what I’m saying? And uhm [pause], finding a place to get into, that is affordable for me alone, that’s like nearly impossible.”

Experiencing homelessness worsened Deanna’s anxiety and overall mental health. Despite actively seeking stable housing, she found it nearly impossible to secure a place to live.

Even with resources from HOPE, Deanna’s struggle persisted, evident in her lengthy wait for affordable housing. This illustrates systemic barriers faced by formerly incarcerated individuals, from securing a down payment to overcoming landlord reluctance to rent to ex-felons. These accounts emphasize immediate and tangible barriers and the need for comprehensive and accessible support systems to ensure previously incarcerated persons well-being and pro-social integration.

Despite facing these hardships, clients’ determination to secure stable housing demonstrates their desire for safety, security, and positive change. Another male client, Mack, grappled with notable difficulties in obtaining housing. Despite repeated attempts to secure housing independently while experiencing homelessness, Mack encountered further hindrances. Nonetheless, his determination and ingenuity led him to seek aid from a close friend who assisted him in completing rental applications. It was this invaluable support from a trusted companion that ultimately paved the way for Mack to successfully secure housing.

Emphasizing the multifaceted challenges and creative strategies individuals employ to secure stable housing upon reentry illustrates their resourcefulness in addressing their housing needs. In talking about how he first “stayed in my car for like 2 weeks… and then I got a weekly [single resident occupancy, (SRO)] but that didn’t work out,” Mack went on to explain that he’s also been “staying on my friend’s couch” and eventually “kinda manipulated the system and had someone rent me an apartment in their name.” While explaining this process, similar to Deanna’s experience, Mack also became frustrated, and said that the biggest obstacle was finding a place to live, “Housing. Apartments. Everything. It’s impossible” and that “even though, you know, I make seventy thousand a year, I still can’t find a place to live!” Even with a decent income, the formidable and often insurmountable housing challenges individuals face post-incarceration can be extremely exasperating.

Even with access to economic funds, another male client, Wilson, also explained that his criminal background dramatically impacted his actual access to housing options: “The few places that will take you are in such bad areas that it would just be a trigger for me, for most people, to go back.” When asked whether or not HOPE helped him to find a place to live, Wilson noted that, “They gave me a list of places that will rent to felons but, like I said, they’re in such bad areas that, well, all it is crime and drugs.” Certainly, the quest for housing is intertwined with a complex web of challenges. Stories like these provide testimony to the importance of addressing housing instability and highlight the role of comprehensive support systems in promoting successful reintegration.

These examples also demonstrate the hurdles individuals face in navigating the housing system and emphasizes the importance of social networks and support in overcoming housing access challenges. Extensive discussions among all HFP case managers regarding client-specific support provisions further underscores this point. For example, conversations about how case managers plan and navigate for client homelessness included the following description:

“The approach changes because, even if they’re couch surfing, normally, they’re not in addiction. So, the case management approach would be to try to get that person some sustainability. To maintain their housing status.”

The significance here lies in the shift from addressing addiction issues to focusing on achieving housing stability and sustainability in case management approaches. After asking to explain further, another case manager continued,

“So, even if we’re able to provide the supportive services for the client, what we would do is to try to get them employment at the same time.”

The mention of simultaneously seeking employment highlights the multifaceted nature of addressing homelessness, encompassing both housing and economic stability.

Based on insights from clients and case managers, navigating housing fluctuations can be profoundly degrading. Nonetheless, hopefuls remain dedicated to participating in meetings and accessing services. As one case manager mentioned, “My client has been homeless and is living out of his car. He’s up here, all the time. He’s committed to showing up for classes.” At this point, everyone agreed that this client “is good. Doing well.” Once more, hopefuls actively strive to better their situations, even in the face of challenging situations. These stories serve as vivid examples of clients’ unwavering commitment to their reentry journeys.

These narratives also underscore the positive outcomes generated by case managers and clients persistent efforts, despite the hardships they encounter. When considering strategies for addressing homelessness, case managers unanimously recognized the importance of providing immediate and direct services to clients. This shared understanding among case managers underscores the critical importance of promptly addressing the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness and emphasizes the resilience and determination displayed by hopefuls in seeking assistance and support. As one case manager aptly pointed out,

“I think with those who are completely homeless, and depending on how quickly we’re able to get them services [pause] because the problem is – if they walk out the door, and we haven’t done anything, invested in something to be able to get them anything, well, we may never see them. They may never come back.”

Everyone nodded in the affirmative and agreed with this well-put statement. The unanimous agreement among participants further reinforces the urgency of providing timely assistance to all clients in dire need.

It is important to note that the mentioned quote brings attention to a significant issue: clients who do not return after their initial contact with HOPE are excluded from the organization's reported numbers of those served. This limitation raises a valid concern about the potential underrepresentation of individuals who may not return to HOPE after their initial contact in the organization's reported count of those receiving assistance. Addressing the specific and immediate needs of clients experiencing “complete homelessness” necessitates swift action and investment in providing timely resources and interventions to ensure their well-being.

A crucial aspect to reiterate is that numerous HOPE case managers have personal experiences with the criminal justice system. This brings a unique sense of empathy and genuine understanding to reentry case planning. Their firsthand knowledge enables them to connect with clients on a deeper level, providing more effective support tailored to individual needs during the reentry process. One case manager mentioned that, when she originally came to HOPE as a client, she

“Was homeless and, I didn’t want to be on a park bench so, it was great that we have 24-hour buses. The buses have heat. They have Wi-Fi on the bus. Some, you can charge your phone.”

In offering her personal experience, this account mirrors the practicality and resourcefulness of client experiences as they avoid homelessness and seek shelter.

The mention of buses' amenities by both case managers and clients highlights how innovative solutions can provide a level of comfort and support to individuals in dire situations. For example, another case manager discussed that she had a client that said that he was going to stay with a friend. After he returned for a follow-up meeting, the case manager asked him, “So, how did it work out with your friend?” And the client said that “he just stayed on the bus all night… because the friend didn’t answer the phone. So, he eventually rode on the bus all night.” Confirming this common narrative, another mentioned,

“We have a lot of clients riding the bus, uh, especially if they don’t want to go home and they’re just going to places that they didn’t want to return home to in the first place.”

These quotations illuminate the stark realities confronted by individuals grappling with housing instability post-release.

This data underscores the challenges associated with relying on unstable living arrangements, such as staying with friends, which can quickly lead to precarious situations. These examples also highlight the lengths individuals go to in order to cope with and avoid homelessness. HFP case managers, drawing from their experiential knowledge, offer a deeper understanding and insight beyond the conventional approach. Their firsthand experiences enable a more personal and empathetic connection with clients, enriching the support quality and contributing to reentry success. As case managers actively guide hopefuls through their reentry journey, they address tangible housing insecurity issues that profoundly impact overall client success.

Theme 3. “He’s done with his sentence, but he could not afford to go anywhere”: Housing Impacts on Recidivism

There are clients that are not able to successfully reintegrate because they are impoverished, indigent, and still under the continuous control of the criminal justice system. Specifically, when an individual’s sentence expires, but they do not have a residence to go to, it can lead to challenges with release planning, potentially resulting in homelessness, and even leading to prolonged incarceration. For example, case managers talked about how there are some clients that are “sitting at NDOC [Nevada Department of Corrections] still!” Case managers talked about how:

“Another major challenge occurs when we have individuals that are incarcerated and, he’s done with his sentence, but he could not afford to go anywhere. So he’s sitting at NDOC.”

Case managers discussed case planning for this client and explained that the CEO of HOPE intervened, paying for this client’s transitional housing to facilitate his release. The unfortunate truth is that, without HOPE’s intervention, this client, as well as other individuals in similarly dire circumstances, would remain incarcerated or under the guise of NDOC, even if their sentence has “expired.”9

This continuous control and supervision also impacted client work routines, as illustrated by Eric, who was living at NDOC transitional housing. He explained that, despite having temporary residence, he was still experiencing barriers to reintegration. Eric discussed,

“The biggest barrier that I had when I started the [HOPE] program is that I was still living at NDOC [transitional housing]. Like, my company wanted to promote me but at, NDOC, you know, I would’ve been moved to a salary and they [NDOC] don’t want you to be on salary there. They want you hourly. That way they can track your hours. Stuff like that.”

Residing at the department of correction’s housing facility negatively impacted this client’s career goals and long-term success. Continuous control by the criminal justice system limited work opportunities and other reentry goals.

One female client, Maryann, was able to gain access to resources offered by HOPE. These opportunities lead her to living in a transitional facility. Describing how she originally had an undesirable living situation to return to, HOPE helped her to find stable employment. Maryann was able to meet with two substance abuse counselors and one mental health provider. For Maryann, these consistent service providers helped her succeed her long-term goals because she “felt a bond with them and they were awesome.” Maryann followed through on the advice of one of her substance abuse counselors and found a sober transitional living space. She noted,

“I had a home but it wasn’t a good environment, so for them to take me out of there and put me somewhere safe was really cool and I know that’s something they’re always working on but I feel like it does wonders for most people.”

Maryann confessed that, at the time of the interview [September 2021], this was the longest she was sober and, now, her long-term goals are to go to college, graduate, and become a substance abuse counselor.

Case managers also talked about additional challenges associated with acquiring long-term housing after living in a transitional facility or sober living house. For some clients, after they have successfully completed their time at a transitional/sober facility, they are looking for a place in a “safe,” “desirable neighborhood,” “someplace that isn’t triggering to them.” Still, the challenge lies in the affordability of living in “nicer neighborhoods.” The costs to simply secure an apartment are “two, three times as much” as other neighborhoods. For those hopefuls that are looking to relocate to a “nicer neighborhood,” case managers help them “search for rooms to rent on various platforms.” This option alone serves as a barrier for certain clients who lack access to technology and the Internet, or may not be aware of them or of the platforms offering rooms to rent. Even so, these healthy relocation aspirations are important because they signify the desire of a client to continue their successes outside of transitional facilities. Hopefuls working towards being able to live in a location that does not trigger them equates to broader reintegration goals associated with long-term access to stable housing.

As several case managers mentioned, “When it comes to housing, finding somewhere secure to go is an issue.” One agreed,

“A lot of times, I have clients that I would recommend Single Suits [pseudonym] to, because some accept our clients, depending on their background. But, oftentimes, they’re reluctant to go because it is too close to the spaces that they’ve been in prior.”

Another case manager confirmed, “Yes. It’s a trigger for them” while another followed-up, “Yeah. It’s like, do I risk my sobriety because I want somewhere to stay? Or do I stay on the streets and, you know, figure it out?” These quotes reflect the sensitive nature of housing decisions for individuals reentering society. These dilemmas delve deeper into the psychological and emotional aspects of securing safe housing. There are internal conflicts that many hopefuls face: the trade-offs between seeking shelter, being triggered, risking sobriety, and recidivating.

In talking about the intricate interplay between housing, psychological well-being, and the complexities of reintegration, another female client, Sheree, experienced issues with accessing safe and affordable housing. Confirming some of the challenges throughout her reentry journey, Sheree acknowledged, “Yeah. Housing was a big obstacle for me. It took me about a year to get housing.” Sheree was not in need of a sober living facility and was looking for housing in desirable locations that were safe enough for her to live with her child. She explained,

“They [HOPE] gave me some resources for possibilities, a list of places that rent to ex-felons. And, honestly, they were – not good. Not good areas. Just not good. So, since I have a thirteen-year-old daughter in foster care, and I was getting her back in two weeks, I had to have housing. I had to have somewhere, you know, safe.”

In meeting her where she was at, HOPE helped Sheree understand finances and ways to increase her credit score so that she could apply to varied housing options in the future. HOPE also connected her to several legal and housing services that were able to assist her with addressing her evictions and provide her with housing programs in desirable neighborhoods. Sheree talked about how she was “spending money on application fees, only to get denied” and that her “credit score wasn’t that great, that was an obstacle.” After working with financial connections provided by HOPE, she was able to get her “score up an additional 100 some odd points.” Sheree explained, “They worked with me. They sent letters to creditors. Did everything on my behalf.” Clients not only express concerns about their own psychological and financial well-being but also highlight the complexity of finding suitable housing while considering the safety and well-being of their children.

By addressing broader reentry aspects associated with financial stability, credit improvement, and legal support, HOPE empowered Sheree in a multi-faceted approach that helped her to overcome housing barriers while improving her overall financial standing. These quotes showcase the holistic approach taken by HOPE and demonstrate how interventions extend beyond immediate housing needs to address underlying financial and legal challenges. At the time of this interview (May 2021), Sheree’s goals were to continue family therapy and purchase a home for her and her daughter.

Duane, another male client, talked about how, “prior to me going to prison, I was doing quite well for myself” and that, because of some financial savings, he was able to secure housing upon release. However, Duane felt the need to identify that these personal financial savings were “nothing great” because “while in there [prison] I got divorced and lost everything. I made zero dollars. My house was sold. Car gone. All my belongings gone. Period. Everything.” He continued,

“There were other issues, yeah, housing issues and things that came up afterwards but once I got the job, that was enough for me to be able to do whatever I needed to do for housing, food, and whatever else I needed.”

Even though Duane was renting a place on his own, when asked what he believed was the biggest challenge for clients at HOPE, he confirmed,

“Absolutely housing. Most of these people that are coming out of prison, that have been there ten, fifteen years, things like that, they don’t have the skills to just reenter society and just go down and get a house. They need a system in place that will give them at least housing on a temporary basis, you know?”

In thinking about his peers and other hopefuls, Duane continued,

“I think we [HOPE] can partner with organizations that provide housing and help them get their EBT cards ahead of time, you know? So that they come out with something that’s already kind of established to a point where they can focus on themselves and not have that, ‘Oh my God. How am I supposed to get my next meal?’ Because, that’s when mistakes like relapsing and recidivating start happening.”

It is understood that individuals transitioning from incarceration often lack the necessary skills and resources to secure immediate housing. Partnering with organizations to provide housing and facilitate access to essential resources represents a comprehensive support approach. This approach goes beyond addressing housing alone and extends to immediate needs such as food security. By implementing these strategies, the aim is to alleviate the stress and pressure associated with basic survival, ultimately reducing the risk of relapse or reoffending.

With family support, another male client, Ricardo, already had housing post-release. Yet, in talking about his general thoughts about obstacles faced by previously incarcerated persons, Ricardo mentioned how HOPE helped his friend, another young man that was not a client at HFP. Ricardo explained,

“I have a friend and they [HOPE] helped him with housing because the place where he was at wasn’t a healthy place because his girl was still on drugs.”

Crucially, because HOPE is not a correctional entity, Ricardo’s friend felt comfortable discussing the drug use happening within his living arrangement. Acting quickly, HOPE was able to find Ricardo’s friend an alternative living situation.

All interviewed clients stressed HOPE’s impact as a non-correctional entity, providing a secure environment for open discussions about reentry challenges without fear of punitive measures or technical violations. This distinction was also shared by all case managers who expressed concerns about the limitations of transitional housing, especially those managed by the department of corrections. While there is recognition of the pressing need for transitional housing, hopefuls felt that these facilities lacked the ability to adequately prepare them for reintegration into the community. In point of fact, as one case manager said, these transitional facilities, “do not know how to prepare clients for actual real transitions back into community.” This lack of preparation from the department of corrections, combined with limited affordable housing, results in continuous and adaptive HOPE case planning, tailored to localized resources and clients’ unique circumstances.

In thinking about solutions and problem-solving for homelessness and housing insecurity issues, HOPE case managers often vocalized their collective dream of running their own housing facility where they could “be in contact with clients from pre-release, to secured housing, and so on” and engage in continuous reentry planning “in a safe space with and for them during the duration of the entire 18-month program.” In so doing, clients would not be “relocating every three to four months.” This lofty aspiration was seen as the “hands down the best option” for delivering the comprehensive services clients require in the immediate, short-, and long-term. Case managers shared the sentiment expressed by clients, emphasizing that with a HOPE facility not being operated from a correctional standpoint, “clients themselves could feel safe, heard, and actually supported through their reentry journey.”

Towards the conclusion of the interview with Ricardo (November 2022), he shared his intention to “give back” to the HOPE community, inspired by the organization’s positive influence on him, his friend, and many others. Ricardo articulated his goal to establish a sober living facility, aiming to offer immediate housing for individuals transitioning out of incarceration:

“Hopefully, later down the line, like I can open up my own sober living home. So, like when people get right out of jail, they come to HOPE For Prisoners, and they have a place to stay right away.”

This initiative emphasizes HOPE’s community and support. It also highlights that, even with family support and housing, individuals may face substantial reintegration challenges. Moreover, it demonstrates HOPE’s proactive approach in addressing these challenges beyond housing availability. Furthermore, Ricardo’s aspiration to “give back” exemplifies a cycle of support, where those who have benefited from HOPE’s services aim to contribute to the betterment of others in similar situations, extending the sense of community and empowerment beyond immediate reentry needs.

The data provides valuable insights into clients’ ambitions for long-term societal contribution. However, it is important to recognize the limitations of drawing general conclusions about the prevalence of this desire among all hopefuls or making comparisons with participants in other reentry programs. These findings are context-specific and firmly grounded in the experiences of clients and caseworkers within the HOPE for Prisoners organization. Therefore, they cannot be extrapolated to imply universality across all reentry programs or client populations. Nevertheless, these discernments remain useful within the context of HFP and underscore the potential impact of the organization’s approach on its hopefuls.

Theme 4: “Buy a house or condo within five years and start doing the normal thing”: Aspirations of Long-Term Reentry Success

The intricate interplay between homelessness rates, limited access to stable housing, and their impact on recidivism shapes the reentry process. Housing availability directly impacts immediate reentry outcomes and the longer-term trajectory of recidivism and reintegration. Effectively addressing housing instability is central to transitioning from homelessness to successful reentry and unveils the intricate dynamics of comprehensive reintegration.

Conversations with HOPE case managers, aligning with the organization’s commitment to comprehensive care and case management, centered on defining success for both the organization and its clients (Troshynski et al., 2022). Success, as frequently emphasized, acknowledges the myriad challenges clients face, with the scarcity of accessible and affordable housing options emerging as a primary reentry barrier. This shortage significantly impedes hopefuls’ ability to secure housing, a critical aspect of successful reintegration. This lack of housing options remains a pressing issue that needs to be prioritized and addressed in order to improve the prospects of successful outcomes for justice-involved individuals.

Case managers discussed clients relying on their family or friends for housing support. However, the effectiveness of this support depends on the quality of the client’s family connections, the presence of criminal backgrounds among family members, and property ownership by the family member. For example, one case manager explained,

“Let’s say the client wants to go to his sister’s home, but his sister has a background. Parole will do their investigation and the client might be denied for that reason.”

During this conversation, another case manager mentioned,

“I’ve seen some people get denied because, even if the family is okay with it, and the family background is okay, the landlord won’t approve for that person to be there.”

These complexities add layers to the factors that can impede housing prospects for formerly incarcerated individuals. The intricate interactions between parole supervisions and landlord decisions showcase the nuanced interplay of multiple systems and individuals in shaping a client’s reentry journey.

The lack of consistent housing adds an additional layer of complexity and uncertainty, making it even more arduous for hopefuls to rebuild their lives and successfully reintegrate. After moving in and out of an undesirable living situation with family, Reg, a male client, was reincarcerated for a parole technical violation. Upon his second release, HOPE offered him the opportunity to reside in a sober living facility. Reg explained,

“Yeah, like, like, I’m not going to lie. That sober living house I’m at is the best. Because she [house manager] has nothing to do with the courts.”

This individual’s positive experience with the sober living facility underscores the importance of spaces that are detached from legal or punitive involvement. The fact that the house manager is not connected to the courts or to corrections is seen as a major advantage, suggesting that such an environment can foster a sense of autonomy and safety for those transitioning back into society.

In thinking about his personal successes, Reg talked about how there needs to be “more spaces” that prioritize individual growth and well-being and that these spaces will ultimately contribute to “more successful reentry” outcomes. He also mentioned:

“There needs to be more sober houses. There also needs to be like better evaluations of where the person is at instead of just throwing somebody in one. There needs to be a way to understand where they are at before they get placed into one or you’re just going to set them up for failure.”

In acknowledging the necessity of individualized support and appropriate placement strategies to ensure the best chances for successful reintegration and recovery, Reg also ended the conversation noting that he was “finally ready to change” and, because of his “second chance,” he feels like he has “experienced more successes” including “being sober for over a year.”

Allan also had family housing available to him upon release but that, during his reentry journey, he took advantage of HOPEs connections to sober living facilities. He explained,

“The job I got through HOPE allowed me to purchase a car right away. And, currently, I just put down a payment on a sober living room that I’ll be moving to in 90 days.”

Allan continued,

“I’m fully self-supported right now and that’s not just because of the job, that’s because HOPE for Prisoners allowed me to do the workshops. That changed my mindset, my perspective of what success could look like and how I could still be me without having to do those old things that were detrimental to success.”

This quote highlights the transformative impact of HOPE for Prisoners in the reentry process. Allan’s journey denotes the importance of supportive connections and resources in successful reintegration. By leveraging HFPs connections to sober living facilities, Allan was able to secure stable housing and take steps towards his own self-sufficiency. The individualized support not only aided in obtaining housing and employment but also catalyzed personal growth and a reframing of what success looks like for him, personally. These stories illustrate how comprehensive programs, outside of the court and correctional system, can empower individuals to reimagine their lives post-incarceration.

Given the severe scarcity of housing options available to hopefuls, many express long-term goals centered around becoming homeowners. Derek, another male client, discussed his long-term goals for continued success as being self-supported and “buy a house or condo within five years and start doing the, quote, normal thing [laughing]”. This aspiration reflects a desire for stability, security, and a sense of ownership in hopefuls lives. By recognizing and supporting their aspirations, it becomes possible to empower them to work towards achieving this important milestone, which can significantly contribute to their overall reintegration and long-term success.

Andrea, a female hopeful, also secured housing through her stay at a sober transitional residence, which was made available to her by HOPE. Eventually, she transitioned to living with her significant other. Together, they were able to find an apartment. Yet, as Andrea admitted, she did not sign the lease because she knew that her criminal record would have prevented her from living there. Andrea explained, “The biggest issue I see for me, and any other felon, is housing” but that she’s “been pretty fortunate... thankfully I have a boyfriend that I live with.” In thinking about long-term plans, Andrea also mentioned financial classes, increasing her credit score, and working towards securing her own residence because, ideally, she really wants “something that will be my own place.”

After completing a sober living program for three months, Joyce, another female hopeful and a mother to a young child, was able to access transitional housing from one of HOPE’s community partners. Then, with a referral from HFP and the community partner, Joyce was able to secure “Section 8 housing…” She explained that “I got us housing because my kid was, uh, taken by CPS, and I got her back while I was in treatment.” In talking about her current living situation, Joyce explained, “I mean, I love our apartment, but there’s like no front yard or back yard that I feel is safe for my kid to grow up in, you know?” When asked to describe her long-term goals, Joyce said, “Hopefully I’ll save enough to have a house with a yard.” Together, these quotes demonstrate the profound impact of stable housing on the reentry process and individuals’ aspirations for a better future. They illustrate how owning a home serves as a potent symbol of stability and success, not merely as a short-term remedy but as a means to attain long-term objectives. Their desire for home ownership reflects a pursuit of normalcy and a redefinition of personal success.

Hope case managers share the perspective that success is synonymous with achieving self-sufficiency and having control over one’s living situation, which aligns with many hopefuls’ long-term aspirations. To support these, case managers maintain regular check-ins with clients over the 18-month program, monitoring goal progress and facilitating the creation of new objectives. They assist clients in setting and achieving goals tailored to their individual needs, providing essential resources throughout the reentry process. Their primary focus is to help hopefuls achieve stability, including housing, and view self-sustainability as the primary marker of long-term success.

Discussion. Borderline Homelessness: Navigating the Precarious Path to Successful Reintegration

In striving for successful reentry journeys, individuals encounter the challenge of securing secure accommodations, making their aspirations closely tied to the fundamental need for a dependable home. Therefore, the prevailing question arises: What are the challenges and factors influencing the reintegration of individuals with unstable housing situations? One key aspect of this research involves exploring the well-articulated experience of being “borderline homeless” including how it affects the relationship between unstable housing and successful reintegration into society. The critical issue becomes how individuals can be expected to achieve successful reintegration when their housing foundation is precariously balanced, leaving hem in a constant state of housing instability bordering homelessness.

This inquiry aims to shed light on the complex dynamics involved in the reentry process, particularly the challenges related to housing and their influence on successful reintegration. The term “borderline homeless” describes individuals teetering on the edge of homelessness due to significant housing instability and insecurity, making them vulnerable to losing their current housing. Coined by those working within this local reentry organization, this term characterizes clients living in precarious situations, where a further housing decline would result in homelessness. While they may presently have a place to stay, those who are borderline homeless frequently wrestle with persistent housing uncertainty.

In contrast, “housing insecure” is a broader term encompassing various housing challenges, including those who are borderline homeless. It includes individuals living in overcrowded or substandard housing, struggling with high housing costs that consume a significant portion of their income, or frequently moving between temporary accommodations. Housing insecurity signifies a lack of stable, suitable, and affordable housing. While borderline homeless specifically refers to the imminent risk of homelessness, housing insecure covers a wider range of housing difficulties, including situations where individuals may not be on the immediate brink of homelessness but still lack stable and secure housing.

Despite the commendable efforts of organizations like HOPE in forging connections with various stakeholders, including community partners, landlords, and public institutions, the challenge of offering appropriate housing options for all clients understood to be “borderline homeless” remains formidable. This challenge is compounded by the unfortunate reality that housing opportunities remain limited for individuals with a criminal history.

These realities become especially pronounced in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, where housing restrictions appear to have tightened. As exemplified by the insights of one case manager, there is a perceptible shift towards stricter tenant screening and rental policies:

“I see a lot of clients, we have the list of all the housing, and I send people there but I think that after COVID, people have gotten a little bit more strict with who they are renting to.”

This sentiment is echoed by another case manager who observed that some housing listings previously open to individuals with a criminal record have now implemented a categorical prohibition against renting to felons,

“Most of the clients that I’ve been sending in the last year, that list, that we were very successful with, well now, ‘We do not rent to felons anymore. Period.’”

It is noteworthy that these previous housing listings were initially labeled as “felon friendly.” They were compiled and developed through collaborative initiatives involving community partners and correctional entities. However, the evolving landscape has led to a disheartening development where such private listings are retracting their openness to individuals with criminal backgrounds because, “They no longer want to work with people with a background.” Consequently, HOPE is actively working to establish supplementary relationships within the community in response to this emerging challenge. The reluctance of landlords and private entities to engage with individuals who have a criminal history has prompted HFP to adapt its strategies and seek new avenues for securing housing solutions.

These findings illuminate a disheartening reality where the availability of suitable housing for justice-involved individuals remains a daunting hindrance, and contributes to their borderline homelessness. The prevailing housing limitations pose a significant threat to successful reintegration efforts, underscoring the pressing need for continued research advocacy, and community collaboration to address this critical issue.

Crucially, based on insights into navigating homelessness, reentry success, and its impact on reintegration, the objective is to secure independent and stable housing, preferably homeownership. As several case managers mentioned,

“If they are able to get their own apartment, then they can choose who they want to live with them, if they want. Then they can have assistance with rent.”

In thinking about these long-term intentions, HOPE has built relationships with several homeowners so that:

“We can negotiate with them and have these conversations because we have clients that are, like a SO [sex offense background] and he was living in his car. So, we found someone that was willing to rent to him. So, now he’s in a safe space and he’s working towards purchasing his own home.”

Another case manager agreed,

“Yeah, that’s the plan. We really need to get to that point and have clients get to that point. That’s what I tell clients. The goal is not just to get employment. It’s employment so that you can become a homeowner. Because, that’s the real game changer.”

These conversations about livable continuous employment and planning for homeownership as well as “walking with clients along the way to home ownership” that will, hopefully,

“Incentivizes clients to stay on course because, then, [pause] well, they all know that this is a big issue. Homelessness. The housing situation. They know that’s the biggest barrier.”

Housing is both a source of necessity and of shelter and provides previously incarcerated persons, and their families, a form of stability. Thus, housing impacts both literal and figurative foundations for successful reentry and abiding reintegration.

At the heart of this overarching thematic discussion, which highlights the reality that formerly incarcerated persons are borderline homeless, is the essential endeavor to obtain stable housing, or better yet, to attain independent homeownership. The complexity of challenges related to homelessness, reentry success, and overall reintegration underscores the pressing need to achieve this objective. In agreement, one case manager that also has a justice-involvement background, noted,

“It was hard for me to rent like I was literally being pushed to certain areas that I knew I wouldn’t survive in or that I’m not used to. So, my option was, let me figure out a way to buy because then I can live where I want to.”

A broader thematic discussion, based on the above findings, is the recognition that attaining independent housing serves as a linchpin for long-term positive outcomes.

Participants of this project emphasize the multifaceted advantages of independent housing particularly when they all recognized the very palatable reality that all previously incarcerated person are essentially borderline homeless. Notably, when hopefuls secure their own apartment, they gain autonomy in selecting their living situation and have the opportunity to seek assistance with rent. The prospect of long-term ambitions takes shape through HOPE’s proactive approach in forging relationships with homeowners who are open to renting to justice-involved individuals. This engagement has already yielded transformative results, as evidenced by the success stories of clients with challenging backgrounds securing safe housing and embarking on new journeys towards homeownership.

This vision aligns with broader strategies that empower clients beyond mere employment attainment. HFP case managers and clients all articulate that employment, while crucial, represents a means to a more significant end: homeownership. The aspiration for clients to not only secure employment but also become homeowners is portrayed as a genuine “game-changer.” This approach is founded on the belief that the acquisition of stable and independent housing engenders a transformative shift in the trajectory of reintegration.

The journey towards homeownership is regarded as a comprehensive process that HOPE actively supports. The notion of “walking with clients along the way to homeownership” emerges as an incentivizing force, encouraging hopefuls to remain steadfast in their pursuit of stability. This approach addresses the overarching awareness among clients that homelessness and housing challenges constitute formidable barriers. By channeling efforts towards enabling clients to surmount these challenges, HOPE leverages the promise of stable housing to drive successful reentry and long-term reintegration outcomes.

The convergence of conversations about livable continuous employment, homeownership aspirations, and the vital role of stable housing amplifies the central thesis that previously incarcerated individuals are inherently vulnerable to the brink of borderline homelessness. The pursuit of stable housing and the transition to homeownership not only symbolize tangible achievements but also embodies a strategy that mitigates the risk of reentry setback and fosters sustained reintegration success.

Further exploration of comprehensive research that attends to the pivotal role of housing within the reentry process is essential to fortifying an all-encompassing approach to housing policies. By shedding light on the intricate interplay between housing and successful reintegration, we can pave the way for more inclusive measures that embrace individuals returning home from incarceration. This concerted effort holds the potential to not only enhance reintegration success and foster positive family reunification dynamics but also contribute to a heightened sense of community connection and safety.

Crucially, an emphasis on successful housing initiatives has the power to yield far-reaching benefits. By curbing the rates of “returns to incarceration,” we can tangibly reduce the cycle of recidivism, resulting in a substantial decline in the burden on correctional facilities and state and federal resources. Moreover, the ripple effect extends to the broader economy, with increased economic gains envisioned as a direct outcome of effectively addressing housing challenges within the realm of reentry. In sum, this comprehensive approach not only aides previously incarcerated individuals experiencing borderline homelessness but also propels broader societal advancements towards greater stability, prosperity, and inclusivity.

Conclusion & Implications: Reentry Planning for Borderline Homelessness

Drawing on the unique perspectives and experiences of clients and case workers within the specific context of HOPE for Prisoners, this study yields meaningful observations associated with a complex issue. The data presented here offers an exploration of participants’ experiences with their reentry journeys, emphasizing both their resilience as well as individual and collective challenges they have faced. In seeking to capture the distinctive sentiments of this organization’s clients, we acknowledge that these realities may not universally represent the broader reentry population. It is essential to clarify that, while this data highlights the determination of clients and case managers, its purpose is not to romanticize their experiences. Instead, it seeks to illuminate the many obstacles they encounter and overcome. This portrayal is firmly rooted in the actual experiences articulated during the qualitative data collection process, presenting a balanced perspective that encompasses their successes, challenges, and setbacks.

Despite this, the implications of this research, particularly regarding the impacts of housing instability and immediate risks associated with being borderline homeless, are significant and extend valuable insights to benefit both researchers and practitioners in the field. Many of the challenges and successes associated with housing are analogous to those identified in prior publications surmised in the above review of research. Based on the United States’ appalling history with mass incarceration, there are tens of thousands of individuals returning home to communities annually. For these previously incarcerated persons, their reentry journeys are exigent where housing is a crucial element to their success.

Research on reentry rightly notes that accessing housing, in a myriad forms (transitional, residential, secured, permanent, independent, etc.), is difficult (Anacker, 2019; Fontaine, 2013). Even if they rely on family and friends, depending on the circumstance, some formerly incarcerated persons oft do not thrive well in familial living environments. Research has documented that, depending on location, a considerable amount of justice-involved persons return home to homelessness.

Conversely, findings herein suggest that, due to the instability of all housing options available, all of HOPE’s clients are considered to be “borderline homeless.” Previously incarcerated persons are in a constant state of residential flux, moving between transitional to residential to familial to secure living environments. For those that reside in community facilities operated by the department of corrections, there is a greater risk of returning back to an incarcerating setting. Thus, as many case managers articulated, there is no “cookie cutter” approach to reentry planning for client homelessness or for clients that have “secured housing.” Instead, case managers plan based on an assumption that all of their clients are “borderline homeless.” Thus, reentry programs and service providers should prioritize housing assistance and support as a central component of their offerings. This includes not only temporary housing solutions but also long-term strategies to help individuals with homeownership.

As this qualitative inquiry indicates, there is also no “one way” to identify success. Providing case-by-case, holistic, reentry planning tailored to each hopeful—encompassing a spectrum of services and resources in the emergent, immediate, short-, and long-term—is noteworthy and contributes to reducing individual-level recidivism rates. However, recognition of the significance of structural and socio-economic factors external to an individual returning citizen is also important. Findings herein highlight the importance of addressing housing instability but that it should be integrated with other services such as employment assistance, mental health support, and substance abuse treatment. Therefore, “success” is realized in a variety of ways depending on individual reintegration experiences connected to client needs, which are primarily associated with housing where planning for homelessness is the norm.

Based on the findings from conversations with hopefuls and reentry case managers, there is a need to create more sustainable systems that help incarcerated persons understand their housing options pre-release. Collaboration with community partners, landlords, and housing agencies is essential to expand housing opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals. Housing options should include immediate, transitional, short-term, long-term, and permanent options inclusive of contact information for entities helping with and/or providing rental assistance. Building relationships and fostering understanding can lead to more inclusive housing policies and increased acceptance of individuals with criminal records. “Banning the box” and making sure that residential properties/housing applications do not ask about specific/all criminal records is also an important policy to (re)consider. Additionally, states and local jurisdictions should expand social services for those that are not homeowners. This can include the development of interagency systems that help formerly incarcerated persons find long-term housing options.

Important conversations about the rights of returning citizens to access public housing is also needed. Access to legal services is a critical conduit associated with successful reintegration as they facilitate help with evictions and gaining access to housing. Legal services also have access to/provide legal documents that demonstrate to landlords, employers, and licensing boards that legal requirements are complete. Legal service agencies also need to continue to help expunge or correct inaccurate justice system documents so that prior records are recorded adequately. For example, in this larger two-year evaluation, a common finding is that sometimes an arrest does not lead to a conviction. And, sometimes, a felony is reduced to a misdemeanor. Legal support can also assist with evictions and facilitate a smoother transition into stable housing.

Homeownership holds significant importance for previously incarcerated individuals due to its potential to foster a range of positive outcomes that contribute to their successful reintegration into society. Homeownership offers a stable and secure living environment, providing individuals with a sense of permanence. This stability contrasts with the uncertainty and transience often linked to post-release housing options, thereby reducing the risk of homelessness or living in unstable conditions.

Homeownership also encourages community integration, fostering social connections, and reduces feelings of isolation. Homeownership is also a pathway to financial stability and empowerment, providing a foundation for future economic success. Owning a home can also enhance individuals’ self-esteem, instilling a sense of accomplishment and is a positive identity shift that contributes to self-efficacy and family reunification, if desired. And most importantly, homeownership acts as a protective factor that reduces the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system. Ultimately, the creation of supportive housing policies and systems is pivotal in aiding previously incarcerated individuals on their journey towards successful reintegration and long-term stability. As seen here, efforts to support and encourage homeownership should be explored further.

Lastly, data herein underscores the urgency of tackling the issue of homelessness and highlights the importance of addressing its structural underpinnings when crafting effective solutions. Future research should continue to embrace qualitative scholarship and explore the experiences of formerly incarcerated individuals with a focus on housing instability and its long-term effects. Understanding the nuances of different housing options and their impact on reentry success can guide more effective interventions.

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Contributors

Emily Troshynski is an Associate Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) where she also has affiliated appointments with UNLV’s program on Gender and Sexuality Studies, School of Law, and School of Medicine. Troshynski’s research interests include understanding the social causes of deviance, violence, and victimization. The goals of her research are to critically, theoretically, and empirically uncover how law and society inform justice system policies and practices. This line of research has had two main foci: 1) experiences of gendered violence and justice system responses and 2) realities of community corrections and reentry as experienced by previously incarcerated persons.

Carolyn Willis is a recent Ph.D. graduate from the School of Public Policy and Leadership at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Her research interests include crime/criminal behavior, victimization, community-based corrections, restorative justice, offender reintegration, advocacy, public policy, and nonprofit management. Having a multidisciplinary perspective has allowed Carolyn to merge her experiences and education to become an advocate in the reentry community as she works as the Director of Programs at a local non-profit organization. 

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