THE BLOG

Crossing the Criminal Justice Chasm to the Community: A Homecoming

According to a recent report on homelessness by J.B. Wogan, while national data indicates that overall homelessness is trending downward, several cities, one county and one state, have declared State of Emergencies due to rising homelessness.
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Gavel close up. Conceptual image of law and justice.
Gavel close up. Conceptual image of law and justice.

According to Rosalynn Carter, There is nothing more important than a good, safe, secure, home. In Mental Health Court, where jail diversion is regarded as a matter of human rights, the need for expansion of community based housing is also a homecoming. A nostalgic reference to Malcolm Gladwell, who spoke eloquently about community reentry and the need to consider how communities will respond to people at the bottom and those interested in reducing criminalization and poverty.

According to a recent report on homelessness by J.B. Wogan, while national data indicates that overall homelessness is trending downward, several cities, one county and one state, have declared State of Emergencies due to rising homelessness. One may ask, why would leaders within a city, county or state declare a homeless state of emergency? Particularly when declaring a state of homeless emergency is not regulated by the state or national government. Yet, as noted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, for policy makers it offers an opportunity to establish a sense of urgency to prioritize the crisis, reduce bureaucratic and zoning barriers, expand shelters, and enhance collaborative efforts.

In my view, the declaration of a homeless state of emergency is a bold and compassionate move. A policy decision most cities, counties, or states will probably not make. Maybe they should? For example, a recent article in The Kansas Star speaks to the illusory nature of local homeless hotlines and referral sources, where due to scarcity of resources there are no beds or housing available. Without stable housing, people with mental illnesses and other disabilities continue to revolve through costly emergency rooms, psychiatric receiving facilities and jails.

As noted by Lois M. Davis of Rand Corporation, successful reentry from a public health perspective requires clearly defined pathways to integrated health care and a variety of socio-economic services, including educational/vocational programs and supports. For Jail diversion to be successful, public health and behavioral health services can only be effective if a person has a place to live.

According to The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, housing is fundamental to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II and Olmstead v. L.C. As cited by Bazelon, "...Remedies for the segregation of individuals in institutions or large congregate facilities {and jails} should include providing these individuals with opportunities to live in their own apartments or family homes with necessary supports."

In the article, "The Shockingly Simple, Surprisingly Cost-effective Way to End Homelessness," Scott Carrier describes the evolution of the Housing First model and the willingness of Utah policy makers to try something new. While I believe approaches to housing should not be a one size fits all. For me, the true significance of this story lies in the power of the consciousness of community. It is after all, a choice to collaborate and remedy injustice. This includes incarceration due to untreated mental illness, trauma, poverty and - the crime of having no home can become a homecoming.