As an eight-year-old growing up in the Bronx, Bernadette Butler remembers seeing people living on the street and asking her mother: “Why can’t we just bring them home?”
Butler is now the director of the Homecoming Project, which pairs people leaving prison with homeowners who have a room to spare, and she continues to ask a similar question.
“A person’s ability to provide for themselves and to contribute to their community often depends on one person who says, ‘yes, I will hire you,’” Butler said. “The same is true with housing. People leaving prison need that one person who will say ‘yes, you can live here or yes, you can live with me.’”
Inspired by the sharing economy, the Homecoming Project provides a place to live for people returning home after serving more than 10 years in prison. In return, home-sharing hosts receive a market-rate financial stipend in lieu of rent. The brainchild of the Oakland-based nonprofit Impact Justice, the Homecoming Project was a 2020 winner of the Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge.
One of five children of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Butler has worked throughout her career to address inequality and injustices, focusing on education, and recently shifting to the criminal justice system. “I’ve always seen the world through a justice lens,” she said.