GRANT WINNER | RESIDENT SERVICES AND SUPPORT
Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, California
The Homecoming Project offers a new approach to reentry housing by pairing individuals coming home after lengthy prison terms with homeowners who have a spare room. Inspired by Airbnb and the sharing economy, the unique reentry model gives people a foundation to rebuild their lives with dignity, while enriching communities against the forces of gentrification.
Impact Justice was founded to imagine, innovate and accept absolutely nothing about the status quo of our current justice system. Launched in 2015, the national innovation and research center advances new justice-reform ideas and solutions. Impact Justice believes that to build the future we need, we must build the world we want ― today.
The problems are evident: Too many people locked up, including far too many people of color; families broken up and broken by our justice system; and a culture that too often treats people based on fear, oppression and bias. Impact Justice works to create a justice system that is truly fair to all of us by:
- Preventing unnecessary contact with the justice system
- Improving conditions and opportunities for people who are incarcerated
- Supporting people’s successful return to society
The Homecoming Project is among the organization’s groundbreaking ideas being tested to accelerate justice-system change. The innovation reflects a commitment to partnership with communities, experts, advocates and policy leaders across the political spectrum at every government level. It also brings to bear the organization’s signature idealism, lived experiences and determination to experiment and move the needle of change dramatically.
Every year, thousands of people leave prison in California eager to reunite with their families and communities only to face exhausting, seemingly endless barriers heightened by the pandemic. Successful reentry hinges on an immediate, safe and stable home and other critical services. But too many people end up in shelters or halfway houses on the outskirts of town that can mimic a prison environment.
People leaving prison are almost 10 times more likely to become homeless. The challenge disproportionately affects people of color, who are incarcerated at strikingly higher rates. Exacerbating the situation is the national affordable housing shortage, especially dire in California’s Bay Area. With nowhere to go when they leave prison, too many men and women remain cut off from society. That disconnect perpetuates stigma, fear and discrimination.
“Everywhere in this country people are getting out of prison and they need a home. And everywhere in this country, there are people with homes with extra bedrooms who would appreciate doing something good for another person and making a few extra dollars.”
― Alex Busansky, Impact Justice
SOLUTION: THE HOMECOMING PROJECT
A shared housing model with widely shared benefits, the Homecoming Project emerged in 2018 from community feedback about new approaches to reentry housing for formerly incarcerated people. A seed grant launched the model and gave rise to the first cohort of 18 individuals in California’s Alameda County.
Through an individualized matching process, returning men and women are paired with homeowners who have a spare bedroom, want to be part of someone’s successful reentry, and value the financial stipend the project provides in lieu of market-rate rent.
People returning from prison receive six months of rent-free housing, while local nonprofits offer reentry services such as workforce training, medical appointments and securing ID. Participants are connected to the virtual world with laptops and given technical training if they need it. Research shows this foundation of support greatly improves the likelihood that someone will succeed and not return to prison.
The model is built on the belief that we can do more to help both people pushed to the margins of society as well as people who are being pushed out of communities by gentrification and other forces. By providing housing stability from the start, the Homecoming Project allows participants to save up to 60% of their income for independent living once they begin working so they can move into their own apartment, furnish it and cover first and last months' rent.
Most of the Homecoming Project’s hosts, who are also predominantly people of color, are economically challenged and face structural racism in their daily lives. To date, at least half of the hosts have identified as low or moderate income. The cash stipend they receive keeps capital in the hands of community members.
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- Arsola’s Distribution Center and Community Services
- Five Keys Navigation Center
- Ahimsa Collective
“This grant is going to change lives. It's going to revolutionize the way we connect. It's going to redefine what community means.”
― Terah Lawyer, Impact Justice
Moving from seed to scale, the Homecoming Project will show that home is the key to our common humanity. Over the next two years, the project will grow its team and service providers to meet the goal of reducing homelessness for 120 people returning from long prison sentences.
A pipeline of potential hosts will be extended to include both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties in California, increasing the quality and availability of community housing, while prioritizing people of color, often left out of the sharing economy. New lending partnerships promise to create additional homeowner incentives, such as expedited home equity.
To facilitate statewide and national expansion, the Homecoming Project will strive to show the enduring benefits for participants, hosts and entire communities, while exploring impact capital and pay for success models to ensure long-term sustainability.
Research findings and toolkits will provide valuable information to criminal justice practitioners, policymakers and community leaders seeking to give people returning from prison a viable chance to begin their new lives.
Photos courtesy of Barbara Kinney/Emerson Collective
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