Break the System: “More Homes, Less Jails.” (Part#3)

Attainable Shelter

It is certainly no secret that houseless individuals face many barriers, including often being targeted and harassed by the current criminal justice system, solely for existing as houseless people. In many ways, poverty is criminalized. According to Sara Rankin’s Punishing Homelessness (2019), Black Americans, only 13% of the population, represent 40% of the houseless population, where as Latinx folks represent 16.9%. In total, 68% of the nation’s houseless population are people of color. Rankin refers to the United States prison system as “the nation’s largest homeless shelter” due to the fact that houselessness, in and of itself, is a major risk factor to incarceration.

“Over 15% of those in jail were homeless prior to incarceration, a rate of 7.5 to 11.3 times higher than the general adult population. Approximately 25–50% of the general homeless population has a criminal history, oftentimes sparked by arrests for non-violent offenses associated with homelessness, such as camping or begging (Rankin, 2019).”

Psychiatric disorders also impact many who experience houselesness, by at least 30 to 40%, according to Rankin. Additional trauma is implicated by the mere experience of houselessness, as Rankin states houseless individuals face lack of healthcare access and food insecurity on top of any existing ailments. Public policy, often at the county or municipal level, make it very easy to be targeted by law enforcement for attempting to meet basic needs. Houseless people can expect fines, harassment or being jailed for seeking shelter from the weather, asking for money or food, loitering or trespassing. Further, when they receive fines, they are likely not able to meet the financial obligation and/or appear in court, resulting in further criminal penalties for failing to appear. Developing a criminal record often does make it impossible to access additional resources, only rendering the houseless more chronically houseless.

“The results of our experiment demonstrate that HF produces significant reductions in reconvictions compared to usual care. People who are both homeless and mentally ill are frequently in contact with the justice system, a process that is both destabilizing to the individual and costly to society. The advent of HF has been shown to improve housing stability and health service involvement. Our results extend the benefits of HF by showing improvements in public safety and reductions in crime.”

The Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) in Seattle, Washington is an integrated services provider, which provides crisis intervention, housing, emergency shelter and healthcare to the houseless and formerly houseless population, according to their website. In a March 2019 blurb titled Housing first and the Criminal Justice System, the DESC refers to the City’s criminal justice system and the streets/emergency shelters sharing a “revolving door”. In an op-ed by Daniel Malone, Executive Director of the DESC:

When Milwaukee, Wisconsin implemented a housing first initiative, they saw a decrease in municipal level violations, according to Burrowes, by 82% and the reduction of houselessness overall.

Housing First implementation has many societal benefits to consider. According to Implementing Housing First with Families and Young adults by Cyleste Collins and colleagues (2019), the successful implementation has shown that 79% of the families and young adults in a Housing First pilot program avoided needing transitional shelter again. The participants saw less exposure to the child welfare department and a decrease in case management overall.

References:

Punishing Homelessness, New Criminal Law Review. Vol 22, No 1 (2019) Sara Rankin

Other Issues

Universal Basic Income
Federal Job Guarantee
Universal Health Care
Decriminalize Drugs (Yes, even that one)
Decriminalize Sex Work

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Angel D’Angelo

Angel D’Angelo

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I’m not an expert or scholar on anything. I mainly write for me. If others see it, and love it, great :)