Housing former inmates a challenge

Today, a coalition of justice reform, housing and crime victims advocates gathered for a justice and housing summit to identify local and statewide solutions to address disproportionate rates of homelessness for justice-involved Michiganders.

The event, hosted by Safe & Just Michigan and co-sponsored by the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness and Still Standing, comes amid growing, bipartisan support for statewide expungement reforms and Detroit’s recent ordinance to “ban-the-box” asking about criminal history on rental applications.

“Helping a formerly incarcerated person find a safe and affordable place to live is a large part of helping them rebuild their life,” said Troy Rienstra, outreach director for Safe & Just Michigan. “I’m fortunate because I own a home, but thousands of other Michigan residents who have a criminal record don’t know where they’ll sleep from one night to the next. Stable housing helps ensure people succeed and are less likely to return to prison — that’s good for all of us.”

Rienstra was released from prison three years ago after being incarcerated for 22 years.

Even though he was able to buy himself a home in the Detroit area, he has faced discrimination by landlords who cite his criminal record and have been unwilling to rent him an apartment in Lansing.

Rienstra regularly visits Lansing due to his work around the Capitol.

Nationwide, Prison Policy Initiative has estimated formerly incarcerated people are 10 times more likely to experience homelessness than people who have never been in jail or prison.

Overcoming this challenge is one of the focuses of re-entry programs at the Second Chance Center in Aurora, Colorado, where founder and director Hassan Latif—the featured guest speaker at Thursday’s summit—has led efforts to construct Providence at the Heights, a 50-unit housing complex for formerly incarcerated people.

The summit also featured a performance piece drawn from the lived experiences of four individuals who experienced homelessness or faced significant barriers to find safe and affordable housing in Michigan because of their criminal record.

Formerly incarcerated people face a number of roadblocks to finding safe and affordable housing upon release, including loss of contact with family and friends or discrimination from prospective landlords and employers.

Safe & Just Michigan works to advance policies that end Michigan’s over-use of incarceration and promote community safety and healing. We envision a Michigan in which all are safe in their communities and everyone is responsible for creating accountability, safety and justice.

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