People face many challenges after a period of incarceration, especially after a long prison sentence. Lack of stable and affordable housing is often the first stumbling block and one that can trigger a cascade of other problems. It’s hard to find and hold a job, for example, without a reliable safe place to live.
The Homecoming Project is redefining reentry starting with home because returning citizens need a place from which to rebuild their lives.
“It’s more than heads in beds,” Homecoming Project Director Bernadette Butler said during a live webinar on Wednesday, September 20, organized by Washington D.C.’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
Access to housing in the community — as opposed to a transitional facility run by corrections — and the relationships and opportunities that flow from that stable home are the reasons Homecoming Project participants do not recidivate, Butler explained.
The Homecoming Project matches people returning home from prison with local residents who have a spare room in their home, understand the value of relationships, want to be part of someone’s successful reentry, and appreciate the stipend that hosting provides. Reentry navigators and other project staff provide participants with the engaged, high-touch guidance and assistance that makes a real difference in the initial weeks and months after release. The team also works to prepare and support hosts throughout the process.
“How do you reenter when people are judging you?” Butler said. “There are so many barriers that feel like mountains, but we are here saying: we got you.” One participant described the reentry process to Butler as his “freedom journey.”
Butler’s perspectives were part of a webinar exploring innovative housing models. The other panelists were Sonya Harper, Director of Criminal Justice Services for Mecklenburg County, NC, and Christina Green, Director of Supportive Housing at the Osborne Association. The Panel was moderated by Sean Quitzau, Senior Policy Analyst at the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
Last month, the Homecoming Project welcomed its 100th participant, a key milestone, and announced the launch of The Center, a new kind of reentry resource focused on individual wellness, personal growth, and community integration. The project placed their first participant in neighboring Contra Costa County and is preparing to begin recruiting hosts and participants in Los Angeles County this fall.
Since launching in Alameda County five years ago, the Homecoming Project has achieved an unparalleled level of success: 100% of participants have left the program with stable housing; 95% are employed or enrolled in a job training or educational program; and to date, none have returned to prison — a stark contrast to the high rates of recidivism nationwide.
Learn more about the Homecoming Project and the rewards of becoming a host.