Leaving prison can be more of a challenge than many people realize. Things can look much different when it’s time to leave, including a lack of stable and secure shelter.
There are many adjustments upon release, and housing is one of the biggest. Former inmates also face other challenges, such as acclimatization to civilian life, finding flexible employment, and of course, the responsibility of freedom.
Arguably, the most significant priority upon release from prison is a safe place to stay. Finding a place to lay your head may not be so easy, though, when you have a criminal record. Thankfully, several resources help you take that first step toward a normal life by providing safe, secure, and affordable housing for the next chapter of your life.
In this article:
- Homelessness among former inmates
- Housing options
- Financial support options
- Healthy boundaries for family
Homelessness among former inmates
Today, there are about five million Americans who were formerly incarcerated. These individuals are 10 times more likely to be homeless than the average citizen, and research shows it is most likely to happen immediately after release.
Some individuals are more likely to experience homelessness. People formerly incarcerated multiple times are twice as likely to be homeless than those who served a single prison term. Women and people of color are also found to be more affected by homelessness. Homelessness can happen before prison, too, with up to 15% of imprisoned people experiencing homelessness in the year before incarceration.
Homeless shelters can be an enormous support for recently released inmates who need a safe place to stay. Many who do not have family support or relationships have been affected by undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction and repeated criminal behavior.
Although numerous studies cite the importance of family during the reintegration into society, longer prison stays also affect the closeness between family members. Sometimes, those relationships are damaged to the point of no return, making life on the streets the only option for those who cannot return home after jail or prison.
There are several resources available to help recently released and former inmates who need safe housing after incarceration.
Officials recognize that re-acclimation into a free society can be an enormous adjustment for recently released inmates used to a strict environment.
- Recovery residence
Also known as a halfway house, this type of temporary housing is specifically designed to help recently released inmates. It is not a long-term housing solution and can be mandated as a condition of release or parole. During their stay, residents must follow house rules, including living a life free of crime and not violating parole. Rent at a recovery residence typically varies between $450 and $750 each month, depending on where you are located.
A homeless shelter is more of an immediate type of housing reserved for emergency needs. It is not an ideal long-term housing solution, as one New York study found that those in emergency shelters were more likely to be reincarcerated than those who found other forms of shelter. Additionally, some states like Hawaii and Illinois do not recognize homeless shelters as approved residences for parole.
Staying with family or friends
It is challenging to maintain familial and social relationships while incarcerated. The longer one is imprisoned, the more likely that these relationships are to suffer over time. However, family and friends can offer some of the most secure housing options for a recently released inmate. It is also one of the most preferred options for parole officers looking for stable housing as a condition of parole.
There is also federal support available in the form of permanent supportive housing (PSH). These programs are typically funded by the federal Housing and Urban Department (HUD) and are a kind of housing subsidy created to support vulnerable homeless populations. Housing support is further boosted by professional support services to help ensure parolees do not re-offend. Most PSH programs require that it be no more than 90 days since your release date, but terms may vary.
Rapid rehousing is another form of available government housing, but it has a different approach. Instead of offering group accommodations, rapid rehousing pairs former inmates with a dwelling of their own. There is also a case manager to provide any necessary rental or management support for up to two years.
Financial support options
When you leave prison, it is often with minimal funds, which can put you at a disadvantage when finding housing. Thankfully, several financial assistance programs can help foot the bill and get you back on your feet.
The federal government lends some support through multiple programs benefiting ex-inmates.
As part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is designed to provide low-income families with financial assistance via a monthly cash grant. This grant is available to felons with children who are struggling to achieve self-sufficiency. As such, payments can be used for a number of your average monthly living expenses, such as rent, food, utilities, medications and transportation. TANF has programs in each state to provide local assistance.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. SNAP was created to ensure that no American goes hungry, offering food stamps to give people access to free or reduced-cost food. These benefits are distributed via an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that you can use as a debit card at authorized retailers. SNAP benefits can also include allowable shelter deductions for taxes, fuel, electricity, water and phones. However, requirements regarding income and benefits change regularly, so be sure to check to see if you qualify.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is also federally funded. It assists low-income residents with energy assistance to stay warm during the winter and cool during those hotter months. LIHEAP also offers assistance when there is an energy crisis or minor home repairs that need to be made due to an energy-related issue. LIHEAP can also help with weatherization costs to prevent future extreme weather-related damages.
HUD is another source of housing support when you have difficulty affording rent. There are public housing options reserved explicitly for low-income renters who otherwise could not afford the growing cost of rent in their neighborhoods. The Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as Section 8, can provide free or reduced rent at an eligible rental of your choosing.
It can also help when you are living in privately owned subsidized housing. HUD offers assistance to landlords so they can pass those savings to low-income renters through discounted rent each month.
It is nearly impossible to keep up with your financial responsibility when behind bars, leaving months of unpaid expenses, such as rent and utilities. Most inmates are released to find out that their car insurance has lapsed, and their credit scores have decreased dramatically from all of the unpaid bills.
Rebuilding credit is a typical process for many inmates to attain permanent future housing, but there are some things you can do to help the process along.
- Check your credit score.
Before you know what needs to be done, you need to know where you stand. You can check your credit score for free, so you can review your report to ensure there are no errors.
- Start paying off debt.
Once you know what you owe, begin paying down your debt. You want to aim for low credit utilization with an ideal debt-to-income ratio of 70/30.
- Open a bank account.
Find the best bank for your needs and open an account. This will allow you to set up regular payments for things like car insurance so your credit score won’t be affected by late payments.
- Apply for a credit card.
A credit card is one of the best ways to rebuild credit when you make your payments on time and keep your credit utilization low. If you do not have the credit to qualify on your own, you can apply for a secured credit card that uses collateral to guarantee your line of credit.
Healthy boundaries for family
The longer a person is incarcerated, the harder it can be to adjust to civilian life when released. There is a lot to learn and catch up on when separated from regular society for an extended period. Things like new technology and social media can be extremely overwhelming and stressful when a person is suddenly bombarded with new ways of doing things.
Your family is likely to become an enormous source of support after your release, and they can also provide the stable, secure, and affordable housing you need to fulfill your parole terms. While your family helps you adjust, it is essential that you also do what you can to make these new living arrangements easier for everyone involved.
When a loved one extends shelter, it can be a much-needed lifeline for many recently released inmates. Despite your best efforts, however, it will take some getting used to for everyone, so try your best to respect your host and not overstep any boundaries. Help out when you can, and always remain respectful to make the transition as easy as possible.
Remember that, as you are adjusting, your family is going through an adjustment period, too. There may be some stigmas for your loved ones to work through that could impact the family. Help out by remaining positive, staying out of the way and avoiding any conflict that could affect the household dynamic. Everyone must work together to create an environment that is healthy and secure for all involved.
Follow house rules
Despite what you may be accustomed to, you must follow the house rules set forth for your stay. Some of the freedoms you want may be restricted, such as staying out late or drinking alcohol. However, you must remember that you are a guest in someone else’s home. As they are doing you the favor of allowing you to stay, it is important that you follow the rules and respect other household members.
Don’t shy away from tough conversations
This new housing arrangement is likely to be a work in progress for all involved, so it is only natural to experience an adjustment period while you get used to living with new people. Additionally, readjusting to life outside can be difficult, with many former inmates experiencing depression, anger, insomnia and extreme stress.
Be willing to hear any concerns from your family members with an open mind. Maintain open communication and regularly express your gratitude to your hosts to make life as enjoyable as possible for everyone in the home.
These resources might be helpful for you to find secure housing after incarceration.
Reentry into society resources
- The Fair Shake Reentry Resource Center offers national, state and local reentry guides to offer support of all forms to former inmates.
- The Centre for Justice and Reconciliation at Prison Fellowship International helps former inmates with a ten-fold plan.
- Prison Fellowship offers reentry ministry and resources for those of faith.
- Lionheart Foundation provides a state-by-state resource guide of reentry support services.
- Right Path has tons of resources for former inmates and those who work with them, such as parole officers, community service supervisors, family and friends.
- Volunteers of America has an enormous network of volunteers and professionals who will work one-on-one with former inmates while also providing crucial support, such as help with housing.
Mental health resources
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a leading federal resource to help those with mental health issues, including those formerly incarcerated.
- HHS’s Office of Minority Health offers specialized support services and resources for former inmates.
Family support resources
- The Angel Tree Program supports children of current or former inmates with a particular focus on holiday gifts.
- Saving Kids of Incarcerated Parents (SKIP, Inc.) has locations around the U.S. to provide a local support unit for children of incarcerated parents.
- Assisting Families of Inmates is a program specifically designed to ease the burden of incarceration on family members, helping during and after a parent’s sentence.
Resources for finding rentals that accept ex-offenders
- HUD offers official guidance regarding renters’ rights and housing providers.
- Zumper.com offers a listing of apartments that may not require a background or credit check.
- Zillow’s Community Pillar Program allows renters to find rentals with relaxed requirements.
Resources for finding jobs that accept ex-offenders
- The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit meant to incentivize business owners to hire those who were formerly incarcerated. Under the program, ex-felons must receive employment within either one year of release or the end of parole or probation.
- The Federal Bonding Program helps employers avoid additional risk by offering additional employment insurance. With this protection, employers hiring ex-felons do not have to worry about things like larceny, theft, forgery or other potential types of losses that can come with this insurance coverage.
- The Second Chance Jobs for Felons is an apprenticeship program that helps felons find stable employment through free on-the-job training and classroom education. There is a searchable database of programs so you can find a program near you.