Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Homelessness among jail inmates

Hearing stories about homeless men is a constant theme as I meet one-to-one with men at the Regional Justice Center in Kent.  Prisoners for Christ Outreach Ministries and other outstanding ministries

What is really going on?

Is the problem overblown in my thinking?

My writing collaborator added this anecdotal reference:

Jim is 52 and was recently released from Monroe.  He had been able to get a temporary spot in a group home in Tacoma.  Though he was from Vancouver (where all his relatives are) the DOC would not send him there because he could find no place to stay.  Release day came and they loaded his three boxes of belongings into a van and drove them - and him - to the Metro bus depot with his check and a bus ticket.  

Metro would not take his boxes aboard.  The struggle was long, but he finally got to Tacoma on Greyhound and walked his way (ferrying his three boxes one by one) to the group home a mile away.

homeless are young, too
Jim has been out for months, but has no worked. Before prison he ran a large Safeway, and is a very bright and capable man, but none of that counts.  To be homeless is to be in a never-ending, desperate struggle daily to find shelter each night.  You are marked.  One step out of line and you go back to prison (failure to report, loitering). 

I did some research, noted my sources, and invite you to read carefully, here:

"The rate of recent homelessness among U.S. jail inmates was found to be very high (15.3%), approximately 7.5 to 11.3 times higher than that found in the general population...

real people under the bridge
"In comparison with other inmates, homeless inmates were not only more likely to be currently incarcerated for a property crime but also more likely to have past criminal justice system involvement for both nonviolent and violent offenses and to have mental health and substance abuse problems and a lack of personal assets.  

"Past studies of individual jails and city jail systems have found higher rates of homelessness than we did, ranging from 7.8% to 20% of persons who were homeless at the time of incarceration and 25% to 33% of persons who had an episode of homelessness in the two months before incarceration."

Jail Incarceration, Homelessness, and Mental Health: A National Study by Greg A. Greenberg, Ph.D. and Robert A. Rosenheck, M.D., Psychiatric Services website, February 2008.

Here is another study: 

  • More than 10 percent of those coming in and out of prisons and jail are homeless in the months before their incarceration.  

  • For those with mental illness, the rates are even higher-about 20 percent.   

  • The rates are also higher for those returning to major urban areas... 

  • 49 percent of homeless adults reportedly spent five or more days in a city or county jail

  • 18 percent had been incarcerated in a state or federal prison.  

"Prison release was identified as a major contributor to homelessness in a 36-city survey on hunger and homelessness by officials in six cities (Cleveland, Denver, New Orleans, Phoenix, Seattle, and Washington, DC). Reentry policy council website, 2002 study

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