Battling Homelessness Through Re-Entry Housing

by Michelle Duke on May 16, 2017

A major challenge in reducing homelessness is housing people who have been through the criminal justice system. Since 2015, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC) has provided re-entry housing for criminal justice-involved adults in partnership with the San Francisco Adult Probation Department (SFAPD) and the San Francisco Collaborative Courts. THC  provides probationers and criminal justice-involved adults with necessary resources and support throughout their transition to independent, permanent housing.

As of May 1, 2017, the New Horizons Program, a clean and sober transitional housing program operated at the Drake Hotel, served 100 individuals, 34 of which have successfully exited. Program participants are held to the principles of recovery and sober living and are more likely to successfully exit the Program if they have completed residential treatment. Of the 41 current participants, 71% successfully completed at least 90 days of residential treatment prior to entering the Program. 68% of individuals on the current wait list have also successfully completed treatment, an increase which should contribute to a greater number of future successful exits.

These programs followed the passage of Assembly Bill 109 (AB109)in 2011, AB109 allowed probation violators and newly-convicted low-level offenders to serve their sentence in county jails in an attempt to alleviate state prison overcrowding. Although creating a positive change for keeping low-level inmates out of overcrowded state prisons, AB109 has increased the demand for re-entry services at the county and local community level.

For those serving probation or mandatory supervision in San Francisco, this meant entering an already crowded housing market ill-equipped to respond to an influx of low-income individuals seeking permanent housing opportunities. Without the stability of housing, these individuals risked substance abuse relapse, failure to comply with court-ordered activities, and recidivism.

New Roads

Before these new programs San Francisco had limited stabilization housing opportunities designated for the probation and criminal justice-involved population. Probationers struggled to find opportunities for stable living environments while they work on goals for employment, housing, recovery, meeting their probation requirements, and reconnecting with their community.

Probationers unable to gain access to community programs and resources along with being inundated with garnishments for child support, education debt, and court fees were forced by their circumstances to seek refuge in shelters or the streets. One year after AB109, THC collaborated with the City and SFAPD to adopt the New Roads program and provide better support to probationers facing homelessness. .

New Roads participants were given two full years of a graduated monthly rent subsidy at a market-rate residence to build their earning power and prepare them for financial independence. Ricki DeArmon, the Director of THC’s Transitional Housing Department, celebrated the New Roads program as “an opportunity to bridge the gap between an individual leaving temporary housing placements and entering fair market-rate housing.”

In April 2015, THC began operating the Collaborative Courts Emergency Stabilization Housing program. This program offers participants a six-month stay in emergency stabilization housing while working with a Case Manager and a THC Housing Planning Specialist toward the goal of obtaining permanent housing by the end of their program participation.  Within the first year of operation, 42 clients were housed within the program and 11 clients successfully exited the program to other housing opportunities.

New Horizons

In September 2015, THC master-leased the Drake Hotel from Dipak Patel. The Drake, once the home of legendary movie director Frank Capra, provides 60 units of affordable housing to low-income tenants and became the headquarters for the New Horizons program.

New Horizons offers participants a one-year stay in a clean and sober living environment during which time they participate in community activities, learn life skills on how to be a good neighbor and tenant, budgeting, and other skills needed to acquire and maintain future housing placements. New Horizon participants are also required to participate in a sliding scale Savings Plan Program (SPP).

DeArmon recognized the benefits of having participants form practical money-saving habits while under the guidance and structure of New Horizons program. Participants enrolled in the SPP learn how to budget for monthly rent payments and are even served mock 3-day delinquency notices if they miss a contribution to prepare them for real-life repercussions of rent deficiency.

The implementation of the SPP has proved to be enormously successful for those who exit the program. Funds accumulated via the savings plan have been used for rent deposits, down payments towards the purchase of private residences, furniture for new permanent accommodations, or travel to home cities or states to reconnect with family and friends.

Today THC’s team manages up to 90 total participants at any given time through the New Roads, New Horizons, APD Emergency Stabilization Housing, and Collaborative Courts Emergency Stabilization Housing programs. Because each program operates on a short-term participation basis, there is an enormous capacity to serve individuals in need of permanent housing considering the program vacancies left behind by participants successful in achieving their housing goals.

For example, within a recent period of only 14 days, the Department succeeded in permanently housing five program participants from three different programs. The goal of each program, aside from ensuring participants obtain permanent housing, is ultimately to reduce recidivism among probationers and criminal justice-involved individuals.

DeArmon attributes much of the program’s success to the role the Housing Planning Specialists play in supporting participants. “No other program has the Housing Planning Specialist position which allows our team to dedicate the majority of their time to helping participants navigate an almost impossible housing market.”

Each Housing Planning Specialist maintains a case load of participants and provides support similar to that of a Case Manager. They create individualized housing plans, help participants budget for and locate permanent housing, conduct weekly room inspections, and coordinate communication with probation officers, SFAPD-funded Case Managers, and Collaborative Courts staff to ensure participants and their support networks are kept informed of any impending obligations. “Our team has not lost a single housing appeal yet so I believe the added support that the Housing Planning Specialists bring to prepping clients, gathering supporting documents, and attending appeal hearings with participants is making the difference.”

ThC will soon begin a six-week collaboration with Leah’s Pantry to help participants learn how to cook and eat healthy while living in an SRO. “Someday we would love to offer life skills training and substance abuse or mental health support groups,” said DeArmon. “There was no playbook for this program but it’s really working!”

San Francisco’s housing market remains a difficult market to enter for probationers and criminal justice-involved individuals. That makes the success of THC’s re-entry programs particularly encouraging.

Michelle Duke is the Associate Director of Communications and Administration for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron.

Filed under: San Francisco News

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