Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Incarceration and Homelessness. Housing Specific to Persons Released from Carceral Institutions


The housing models specific to persons released from carceral institutions documented in available surveys and reports appear to have few similarities, differing greatly in size, design, target population, and other characteristics. The physical designs include shared living in modified multi-bedroom houses, buildings with dorm-style multi-person units, buildings with single room occupancy (SRO) units with shared kitchens and/or baths, buildings with efficiency (studio) apartments, and multi-family apartment buildings. Target populations also vary greatly, largely an artifact of funding sources that drive eligibility. Most existing projects, however, serve a subset of formerly incarcerated people, whether by level of correctional involvement (prison or jail), disability (mental illness, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse), gender, or family status (singles or families).

The vast majority of this housing is either transitional or supportive. No documented non-service enhanced subsidized housing models or rental assistance programs exist that are specific for persons released from incarceration. This presumes that persons released from incarceration who have housing needs also have accompanying service needs, or that few housing providers are willing to develop subsidized housing models that do not also provide service supports. In either case, this means that housing services specifically for people leaving incarceration have a programmatic function (rehabilitation or reacclimatization). This drives up the cost of providing such housing substantially and may provide unnecessary services to some persons who are only in need of temporary housing support. Such housing, in addition to being programmatic, also remains limited to a small number of boutique programs, implemented by community-based organizations and using resources originally intended for other purposes. Likewise, many of these interventions are modified or enhanced versions of interventions traditionally designed to serve other similar target populations such as homeless individuals or persons with serious mental illness (Black & Cho, 2004). For example, Burlington, Vermonts Dismas House is a modified version of the successful Oxford House model, adapted to the specific needs of persons leaving incarceration (Hals, 2003). Likewise, New York Citys Iyana House and Chicagos St. Andrews Court are enhanced or modified versions of permanent supportive housing (Roman, McBride, & Osborne, 2006).

Transitional Housing

Of the transitional housing models, several are notable for their uniqueness and lack of precedence. One in particular is New York Citys Fortune Academy, operated by the Fortune Society. This project combines 19 beds of short-term and 41 units of long-term transitional housing to address a variety of housing needs among individuals discharged from state prisons and city jails. Lengths of residency are indeterminate and contingent upon individual needs. However, all residents are expected to move into private, unsubsidized housing at the end of their stays (Roman, McBride, & Osborne, 2006; Black & Cho, 2004; Hals, 2003). Another is the MIX Program operated by a New York City organization, Heritage Health and Housing. The MIX Program offers six units of long-term transitional housing for persons diagnosed with mental illness and released from state prison. Lengths of residency range from six months to two years. However, at the end of their tenures at the MIX Program, residents move into other permanent supportive housing operated by either the same organization or other organizations.

These two projects demonstrate the different functions of transitional housing for persons released from incarceration. On the one hand, stand-alone projects like the Fortune Academy fulfill a reintegration function, addressing a temporary housing need during the period of transition from incarceration to community. As such, the Fortune Academy prepares able-bodied and employable individuals to overcome barriers to independence  substance abuse, limited employment history or educational attainment, and/or lack of daily living skills  and eventually achieve self-sufficiency. On the other hand, transitional housing programs like the MIX Program or Project Renewals Parole Support and Treatment Program work as part of a continuum of housing options, functioning as a bridge from incarceration to other forms of service-assisted housing (Roman, McBride, & Osborne, 2006). These continuum models are typically intended for residents who are lower functioning and who need indefinite service supports and housing assistance. Thus, an important consideration in understanding transitional housing models is whether the housing program is a stand-alone program or a part of a continuum of housing options. In the latter case, it may be more useful to consider the network of housing programs as a unit of analysis rather than any individual program.

Supportive Housing

Supportive housing specific to people leaving carceral institutions appears to be less common than transitional housing models. As with transitional housing, these supportive housing models vary in size, design, and characteristics. The range of models includes smaller, single-site supportive housing buildings with efficiency (studio) apartments and intensive on-site service supports (the Bridges Iyana House); larger, single-site supportive housing projects with on-site supports (St. Leonards Ministries St. Andrews Court); and scattered-site supportive housing with mobile case management supports (Marylands Community Criminal Justice Programs Shelter Plus Care program) (Roman, McBride, & Osborne, 2006; Council of State Governments, 2002).

Like transitional housing models, supportive housing models specific to persons released from carceral institutions may function as stand-alone programs or as part of a continuum. An example of the former is St. Leonards Ministries St. Andrews Court, which provides 42 units of second-stage supportive housing to homeless men with incarceration records. St. Andrews Court is described as second-stage permanent housing because it serves individuals leaving St. Leonards Ministries transitional housing facilities (Roman & Travis, 2004). By contrast, the Bridge, Inc.s Iyana House serves women with mental illness immediately upon their discharge from state prison. Tenants are engaged by the provider toward the end of their prison sentence and recruited to live at Iyana House, in some cases transferred directly by the parole agency to the housing site (Roman, McBride, & Osborne, 2006). The terms housing ready and housing first may be useful in distinguishing between these two approaches to providing supportive housing for formerly incarcerated individuals. In housing ready models, individuals are first placed into interim treatment or transitional housing settings before being placed into permanent housing. In the housing first, individuals are placed directly from carceral institutions into housing without an intermediate stage or interim placement (Roman, McBride, & Osborne, 2006).

A common feature of the supportive housing programs specific to persons released from incarceration is that they target individuals who were homeless prior to incarceration and/or who have significant health and behavioral challenges. As such, these permanent supportive housing programs are willing to provide housing for those who are among the most challenging to serve among this population  those who are persistently and chronically caught in cycle of homelessness and incarceration to the extent that that they can be seen as being on the institutional circuit. One example of this is a program in New York City that provides both scattered-site and single-site supportive housing with high intensity service supports to individuals with substance abuse and/or mental health issues who have a minimum of four jail admissions and four shelter admissions within the past five years (Anderson, 2006). Similarly, Central City Concerns Housing Rapid Response program in Portland, Oregon, targets frequent users of multiple public systems. These persons not only present the greatest levels of need, but are also among the most costly, in terms of services consumption, subsets of persons in the nexus of homelessness and incarceration.

View full report


"report.pdf" (pdf, 242.57Kb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®