Formerly Incarcerated People Are Nearly 10 Times More Likely to be Homeless

A report by Lucius Couloute of the Prison Policy Initiative, Nowhere to Go: Homelessness among formerly incarcerated people, finds that formerly incarcerated people are nearly ten times more likely to be homeless than the general public. The rate of homelessness for formerly incarcerated people was 203 per 10,000 people. Another 367 per 10,000 were marginally housed in hotels, motels, or rooming houses but not counted as homeless.

Formerly incarcerated women were more likely than men to be homeless (264 per 10,000 vs. 195 per 10,000), and blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to be homeless (240 per 10,000, 191 per 10,000 and 148 per 10,000, respectively). Women of color were the most likely to be homeless. Homeless women were more likely to be sheltered, while homeless men were more likely to be unsheltered. People who had been incarcerated more than once were more likely to be homeless than those who had been in prison only once (279 per 10,000 vs. 141 per 10,000).

The causes of homelessness among former prisoners include discrimination, a reliance on criminal records to screen potential tenants, the shortage of affordable housing, large security deposits, and other application requirements like professional references. The report also notes that the lack of safe and stable housing can reduce healthcare services and make it harder to obtain employment or to access educational opportunities.

To solve this housing crisis among the formerly incarcerated, the report recommends that states create better systems to help incarcerated people understand their housing options before leaving prison and that they help them obtain short-term or permanent housing, including rental assistance. The report also encourages cities and states to “ban the box” asking about criminal records on housing applications, end the criminalization of homelessness, and expand social services for people without a home.

Data for the report came from the 2008 National Former Prisoner Survey. A product of the “Prison Rape Elimination Act,” the survey asked mainly about sexual assault and rape but also contained questions about housing.

Nowhere to Go: Homelessness among formerly incarcerated people is available at: