Lacking a Home, Having a Record, Needing a Work Life

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By Guest Bloggers: Stephan Haimowitz JD and John Rio MA, CRC, Advocates for Human Potential

Homelessness is a complex and persistent dilemma in rural as well as urban communities. The problem is a product of many factors, from generational poverty and disability to job loss and PTSD. For some, involvement with the criminal justice system is a collateral event contributing to their challenges to leave homelessness and joblessness. Even when permanently housed, idleness, limited income, and unaddressed personal problems threaten housing stability. Employment is a key element to leaving homelessness and can be a stabilizing factor for individuals and families. Practitioners in TJ programs know all too well how involvement in the criminal justice system complicates return to work efforts. Criminal justice involvement occurs for a variety of reasons, and for many it is related to the limited availability of behavioral health services or the war on drugs.

Many people get stuck in a revolving door; they cycle from the streets to service providers to emergency rooms to local jails. At the back door, more than 700,000 people leave state and federal prisons every year – successful reentry often depends on them finding work, housing, and treatment services. Even individuals who are arrested for a minor offense have a lifelong “record” – the case might have been dropped or the conviction may be decades old, but people experience the “shadow” of criminal justice involvement and the job barriers persist.

However, there are signs of positive change and reason to be hopeful. For example:

  • Jail diversion programs are available in many communities that assist people with mental health or substance abuse problems, as well as veterans and individuals experiencing homelessness, in finding appropriate clinical and employment programs.  To find programs in your community, click here.
  • Public Housing Authority (PHA) eligibility rules concerning criminal histories can be more flexible than service providers often think; for example, HUD Secretary Donovan provided guidance reminding PHAs of the discretion they can exercise.
  • Programs funded by the Second Chance Act address the range of needs faced by individuals leaving prison – to locate reentry resources in your community click here.
  • The Incarcerated Veterans’ Transition Program (IVTP) helps to connect incarcerated veterans who are at risk of homelessness with appropriate employment and life skills support as they transition from correctional facilities into the community.
  • Federal bonding and tax credits are available to assist employers who want to hire individuals returning from incarceration.  In fact, one in two employers has hired a person with a criminal justice record.
  • Recently, substantial attention has been placed on the problem of “having a record.”  Many communities have adopted “Ban the Box” rules which eliminate criminal history questions from job applications.
  • At the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued rules in April 2012 aimed at limiting the unfair impacts of a “record” while addressing employers’ obvious need for relevant background information. Put simply, the rules prohibit employers from considering an applicant’s arrest record, and require individualized assessment of a conviction record.

Using the information that’s available, TJ program staff can support the success of job seekers who are experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are or who have been involved with the criminal justice system and who face complex challenges.

For more information contact John Rio at jrio@ahpnet.com or 703-323-4694.

ImageFor 30 years, Stephan J. Haimowitz, J.D., has worked at the intersections of service delivery, disability policy and the legal system.  His current efforts are aimed at improving services and employment opportunities for homeless veterans, ending the misuse of restraint on people with mental illness, and assisting collaborations between behavioral health and criminal justice agencies. Steve was a member of the team that conducted the first review of the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) program. Steve’s articles/chapters on mental health courts, community reentry, end-of-life care, AIDS discrimination, deaf education, and disability policy have appeared in Psychiatric Services, the American Journal of Bioethics and Hastings Center Report, and in books published by the Yale University Press and the New York State and American Bar Associations. He led a coalition of deaf advocacy groups in getting the NY State Board of Regents to recognize American Sign Language and set standards for school interpreters. He has served as a grant proposal reviewer for the U.S. Department of Justice, an administrative law judge for NY State’s Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, and a peer reviewer for Psychiatric Services.

ImageJohn Rio, M.A., CRC, is a senior associate at Advocates for Human Potential in Washington, D.C. Trained as a rehabilitation counselor, he provides technical assistance across the country to improve employment and housing outcomes for people in recovery. He has helped hundreds of staff develop their skills and make use of employment best practices through workshops, conferences, and consultation to agencies. He conducts training on variety of critical topics including evidenced-based supported employment, work first, transitional jobs, strategies for justice involved job seekers, work incentives, integration of clinical, employment and housing services as well as strategies to finance employment services. He has done work for the U.S. Departments of Labor, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), VA and SAMHSA grantees, and state government and local agencies. He has researched key questions about employment, recovery, and homelessness and written numerous reports on these topics.

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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  1. NTJN Blog: Lacking a Home, Having a Record, Needing a Work Life - November 16, 2012

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