Re-Entry Level: Impact Justice, A Bridge From Prison To Home
The Homecoming Project serves as a kind of societal acupuncture, designed to heal raw material social fabric. A 2021 winner of the Ivory Prize for Innovation in Housing Affordability in policy and regulation -- it presses the raw nerve-endings of racism.
Impacts to housing – market-rate, supportive, workforce, low-income, urban, suburban and rural – in the year that has passed since George Floyd's murder remain obscured.
Public health and economic filters and seismic force-fields continue to blur and impede reckoning with structural inequality in the marketplace dynamics, policy, and the culture of home- and community-making.
Puts and takes, steps-forward-steps-back progress on police reform, notwithstanding, root cause clarity reveals where inequities in society, business, and culture create foundational disadvantage, disregard, and vulnerability among people of color, where and how they live, and what they can access of America's bounty.
Nicholas Turner, president and director of Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based non-profit whose mission is to end the overcriminalization and mass incarceration of people of color, immigrants, and people experiencing poverty, writes of the roots, the stem, the branches, and the leaves of this structural bias this way:
More municipalities should take similar and bigger steps toward budget justice. The United States currently devotes more time, energy, and money to criminalizing, policing, and imprisoning people than to helping them. On average, cities spend one-third of their general funds on law enforcement. We spend double on sustaining mass incarceration what we do on providing public assistance to disabled and low-income people.
Correcting these imbalances and uprooting the racism behind them will be a generational fight. We celebrate the victories of the past year—and the hard work and sacrifice of the community leaders, advocates, and government leaders who listened and acted—while recognizing that progress is not happening fast enough for the victims of police violence whose funerals followed George Floyd’s.
Alex Busansky – who, as one-time 1980s-90's New York City DA prosecutor, handled homicides, serious domestic violence and other family violence, and sex abuse cases – wants to accelerate a structural pivot to address root causes and drive law enforcement and public safety reform. And, Busansky's aim – after spending the past two decades in the thick of reform of criminal justice inequities – is to do that by prying racism's effects from housing opportunity right at the nexus of criminal and social justice.
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So, he founded The Homecoming Project in 2015, as a kind of societal acupuncture, designed to heal the raw wounds of our social fabric. The initiative – a 2021 winner of the Ivory Prize for Innovation in Housing Affordability in the policy and regulation category, presses into the heart and raw nerve-endings of racism – structural biases challenging men and women re-entering society after serving time in prison, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color.
The need is clear:
People leaving prison are almost 10 times more likely to become homeless. The challenge disproportionately affects people of color, who are incarcerated at strikingly higher rates. Exacerbating the situation is the national affordable housing shortage, especially dire in California’s Bay Area. With nowhere to go when they leave prison, too many men and women remain cut off from society. That disconnect perpetuates stigma, fear and discrimination.
At work in the field since 2018, piloting its model in the Bay Area Alameda and Contra Costa County area, the Homecoming Project draws inspiration from the shared-economy-short-term stays model Airbnb leverages, online dating-style screening and match-making, and a strong foundation of supportive counsel and resources to create pathways for formerly-incarcerated people to re-enter lives in the outside world.
The way it works is that host homeowners get subsidies for six months in exchange for renting a room at an affordable rate to someone returning from prison. Hosts and participants are matched together individually, while project support teams work to help participants get reacclimated to living in the community. To date, upwards of half the participant/host combinations have chosen to continue their shared past the allotted 6 months.
With a $2.5 million grant award as a 202winner of the Enterprise Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge, with funding from Wells Fargo, The Homecoming Project was able to up its game despite 2020 health crisis and social upheaval challenges:
It provided the necessary resources to realize the full vision of Homecoming so that we could focus on the people who could benefit most. The wisdom and expertise of our growing program team are helping move people into housing faster and safely.
For example, we hired a housing engagement and marketing coordinator who serves as a liaison between the hosts and staff. Having a dedicated staff member in this position allows us to think more intentionally about how to recruit more hosts and share the benefits of Homecoming far and wide.
Additionally, we added another community navigator to advance our level of community care. Not only are we meeting basic everyday needs like food, transportation and access to benefits, we can now go above and beyond for our participants. For example, we’ve been able to offer housing extensions for clients who are struggling to find employment due to Covid-19. We’re meeting participants where they’re at.
In the 2020 to 2030 decade, housing will either define itself as a societal solution or its complex system business, local community, and Federal policy stakeholders will find themselves held to account.
The Homecoming Project, whose model and programming are under discussion for expansion into Washington, D.C., Florida, New York, Wisconsin, Seattle, and the South Bay Area of San Francisco, reflects a purpose-driven root-cause and net effect effort, keen to account for its impact on social justice.