Would You Allow an Ex-Prisoner to Live With You?

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Would You Allow an Ex-Prisoner to Live With You?

In “Would You Open Your Home to an Ex-Prisoner?” Michaela Haas writes:

In the beginning, Sabina Crocette struggled with the best way to introduce London DeLora Croudy to her family and friends. “Should I introduce her as my roommate? My renter? A new family member?” Ms. Crocette was also questioning how much to get involved in her guest’s life: “I wanted to embrace her but not smother her.”

That is because their relationship has no precedent.

Ms. Crocette, 52, took in Ms. Croudy, 32, just before Christmas last year through the Homecoming Project, an effort by the nonprofit Impact Justice in Alameda County, Calif. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a public policy think tank, people who have been released from prison are 10 times more likely than the general public to become homeless. Few can afford astronomical rents in California’s Bay Area, and the stigma against the formerly incarcerated is persistent. But when ex-prisoners end up homeless, the recidivism rates increase.

“We looked at the success of Airbnb and the sharing economy, and saw a model that could be adapted to meet this need,” Terah Lawyer, the program manager, said. “Some are offering shared housing for college students or refugees. We are the first to offer it for the re-entry population.”

“This is a very sensitive ask,” she continued, “but we found it appeals to people who have strong social values and are called to helping that population.”

Since it began in August 2018, the Homecoming Project has matched 15 newly released prisoners with hosts. “We prioritize people who are homeless and who have been in jail for more than 10 years,” Ms. Lawyer said. Perhaps surprisingly, these prisoners are unlikely to reoffend. So far, all the participants and alumni have steady jobs or are pursuing degrees, Ms. Lawyer said. None is on the streets or jobless. Nobody has gotten in any trouble with the law. The Homecoming Project would be prepared to hold a conflict resolution session “to break through communication barriers if there are any,” Ms. Lawyer said, but so far there haven’t been.

The author describes how Ms. Crocette shared her intention to open her home to an ex-felon to a skeptical daughter:

… when Ms. Crocette floated the idea of Ms. Croudy moving in, her daughter, then 21, had a swift response: “No way! Haven’t you learned anything?” Ms. Crocette laughed. “I said to her, ‘Why don’t you meet London before you say no? I believe you’ll be buddies in no time.’ And this is exactly what happened.”

The three women regularly cooked together, shared meals and got to know one another. “You don’t have to ask my permission to go out,” Ms. Crocette had to remind Ms. Croudy in the beginning.

The Homecoming Project screens hosts and their potential house guests extensively and pays $775 per month in rent for six months. The program is about much more than just a place to sleep. “Many participants have to learn to navigate the community,” Ms. Lawyer said. “How do you use an iPhone? How do you cook for yourself?” Some have more serious issues. “People who have committed crimes often have trauma,” Ms. Lawyer said. “It is important for them to be part of a healthy family.”

So that the hosts are not left on their own to deal with such complex issues, each client is connected to an innovative LifeLong Medical Care clinic in Berkeley, where they get health care and can request counseling. Hosts and guests regularly take workshops on topics ranging from practical help to self-care. “They need to be educated about the challenges,” Ms. Lawyer said. “For instance, one host didn’t understand why privacy was such a big issue for his participant. Once he understood the setting in institutions where you even use the bathroom in front of other people, it resolved the confusion.” The Homecoming Project’s community navigators stop by as often as needed to help.

“It’s safer than if I took in a renter from Craigslist,” Ms. Crocette said.

The article continues:

The Homecoming Project has a waiting list of more than 100 ex-prisoners, but only 20 hosts. Ms. Lawyer said they are ready to expand — but a lack of money stands in the way.

Initial funding came from a private donor, but the group also received grants, including one from Stanford University, and a contract with the state of California. Ms. Lawyer hopes to train other organizations around the country to bring the model to their own communities. To give some perspective on the need, 600,000 people are released from prison every year in the United States

Ms. Lawyer knows the issues firsthand. She spent 15 years in prison for aiding and abetting a murder. Behind bars, she got degrees in business management and drug counseling. “When I got out two years ago, I ended up in a transitional home that was run almost like a prison,” she said. “I was grateful I had a place to sleep, but I was not allowed to work for the first three months though I had a job lined up, and I had to take a drug rehabilitation program though I had never touched drugs and am an addiction counselor. I could have run these courses!”

Ms. Croudy said that she, too, hated her halfway house, which was run by a for-profit company that also manages prisons and immigrant detention centers. “I was only allowed to leave one day a week. They simply don’t treat you as an individual who is preparing to stand on her own feet.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Would you allow an ex-prisoner to live with you? Why or why not? What considerations would go into your decision?

  • Do you, your family or any of your friends know someone who served time in prison? If yes, do you know about any of his or her experiences and challenges in re-entering society?

  • Ms. Crocette says, “It’s safer than if I took in a renter from Craigslist.” What do you think of her decision to open her home to an ex-felon? Do you find her reasons persuasive?

  • Do you believe that people who have committed a crime deserve a second chance? Why or why not? What responsibility, if any, do we have to help others get back on their feet?

  • Ms. Croudy says that for former prisoners, “starting over is a struggle, a physical and emotional battle.” Many are barred from housing, jobs, student loans and voting. How do you think society can help people who have committed crimes and served time for them? Examples might include passing legislation to “ban the box,” which aims to remove the check box on job applications that asks if candidates have a criminal record; creating re-entry programs to help formerly incarcerated people pursue college degrees; or providing mentorship and counseling programs for prisoners upon their release

  • The Homecoming Project is only in Oakland. Should all cities adopt this novel approach?