Commentary: From jail to an apartment — not the streets. Secure housing is key for those pulling their lives back together.
By RICHARD J. MONOCCHIO AND CHARLES P. BURNS
CHICAGO TRIBUNE |
SEP 30, 2019 | 5:00 AM
Johnny Washington stands across the street from his home in a multi-unit apartment and retail space building in Forest Park on Sept. 25, 2019.
Johnny Washington stands across the street from his home in a multi-unit apartment and retail space building in Forest Park on Sept. 25, 2019. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
Johnny Washington walked out of his program graduation, certificate in hand, saying he felt relieved and proud. After more than 20 years of heroin abuse and numerous stints in Cook County Jail, he was now regularly engaged in therapy, finally clean and sober, had secured a part-time job and was on the cusp of having his most recent charges dismissed.
He had done everything right, and he was hopeful for the future, but one thing was weighing on his mind. While he had secured a spot at a transitional living facility for the time being, his time there was soon coming to an end. He worried about where he would land after leaving — and whether he would be able to afford it.
Washington’s story is all too familiar for those of us tuned in to the barriers facing the re-entry community. The numbers speak for themselves. According to a recent report published by the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to research in this vein, the formally incarcerated are 10 times more likely to experience homelessness.
We also know that individuals are at the greatest risk of homelessness in the first few months after leaving prison — nationally, nearly 50,000 people enter the shelter system directly upon release. In our own experience with the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Rehabilitation Alternative Probation program, a problem-solving court that supervises and assists nonviolent defendants with substance abuse, recovery and readjustment to the community, almost 50% of participants enter the program without a permanent housing option. Washington was among that 50%.