Poverty and Homelessness? Richer States Have Higher Homeless Rates

Evan Horowitz, The Boston Globe:

Rich states — not poor ones — have the largest homeless populations. Why? It’s all about housing costs.

Think about the recession. While it stoked unemployment and devastated family budgets, it really began with the collapse of the housing market, which drove prices down to a level that made basic shelter more affordable for all.

You can’t beat homelessness with economic growth. In fact, you can actually make things worse, boosting housing prices in a way that heightens problems for the most desperate families.

But there’s a second takeaway: Policy matters. Massachusetts is one of those rich states with high housing costs and an outsize homeless population. But the number of “unsheltered” homeless — people stuck on the street — is extremely low, among the very lowest in the country. And one big reason is that Massachusetts guarantees homeless families a “right to shelter.”

Rich states have more homeless people. It’s not an iron-clad rule, just a loose tendency, but it cuts sharply against the grain of economic expectation.

Photo by Susan Madden Langford

Photo by Susan Madden Langford


The District of Columbia is the tragic leader on this score, with a rate of homelessness six times the national average and the highest per capita incomes in the nation. Close behind are other relatively wealthy redoubts: Hawaii (53 homeless/10k), New York (45), Oregon (33), and Massachusetts (31). Meanwhile, the states with the smallest homeless populations are Mississippi (7) and Alabama (8), two of the poorest places in the country.

Even if you take a simpler measure — just comparing the poverty rates across all 50 states — there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the number of poor people and the number of homeless people. And if you’re still skeptical, remember that the national figures provide a kind of corroboration. Poverty rates leapt during the great recession, homelessness didn’t.

The one thing that really does seem connected to homelessness rates is the cost of housing.

Look back at the list of places with the highest homeless populations: D.C., New York, Hawaii, Oregon, Massachusetts. Those are five of the hottest housing markets in the country (and California, slightly down the list, is another high-priced, high-homelessness state). And at the bottom, Mississippi and Alabama are cheap places to live.

If this connection between homelessness and housing costs seems obvious, think for a second how strange it is that poverty isn’t part of this equation. After all, there’s no “absolute” sense in which costs are high; they can only be high relative to how much money people have. So why isn’t homelessness equally about out-of-reach costs and limited means?

What’s needed is a story of homelessness that involves housing costs, but not income. And there, the academic research provides some assistance.

You can think of homelessness as being caused by a confluence of three things:

1. a sudden life shock, like a health crisis or unexpected unemployment

2. a breakdown in social support, with too few friends and relatives willing to lend their couches or share their homes

3. a lack of alternative housing at the bottom end of the rental market

Put these together and you can start to see why homelessness and poverty might not be so strongly connected.

Imagine a middle-class family in a rich state. They’re doing fine until the breadwinner is hit by a health or career crises. Bills begin to mount, and they quickly find they can’t afford to pay their rent or cover their debts.

So they reach out for support, sleeping on friends’ couches or in spare bedrooms. But eventually this dries up. If there’s no affordable housing, they may end up in a shelter.

In this account, your place in the income ladder is secondary. For poor and middle-class people alike, a serious life shock can break your financial life and lead to temporary homelessness.

This is just a theory, which you may well find unconvincing. Even so, you can’t wave away the puzzle that lies behind it. Homelessness seems to be driven by factors other than poverty.

Rich states have one big advantage: more resources. Wealthier states may have higher housing costs and larger homeless populations, but they also have more resources to combat the problem. And that really can make a difference.

Massachusetts is a prime example. When the Department of Housing and Urban Development did its most recent count, back in January, it found that there were 31 homeless people for every 10,000 residents. But 30 of those 31 were sheltered. Even with all the shortcomings and indignities that come with living in a homeless shelter, that’s an incredible achievement.

Now, to be fair, January weather certainly played a role. In general, colder states have higher shelter rates than warmer states; only about a third of California’s homeless population was sheltered on that same January night.

Still, few states can match Massachusetts’ ability to provide shelter for the homeless. And one reason is that Massachusetts guarantees shelter access for families (though not for individuals). There are restrictions and hurdles that make this guarantee less than universal, but it has nonetheless helped Massachusetts become a leader when it comes to keeping people off the streets.

What’s more, the state continues to explore new ways to help the most desperate. An innovative public-private partnership has raised money to move more people into permanent housing. And in recognition of the role poor mental and physical health can play in chronic homelessness, the state is trying to use federally backed Medicaid dollars to advance this effort.

Economic growth can’t end homelessness. Maybe that’s good news.

There’s a bright side to this story. If homelessness and poverty aren’t strongly connected, then you don’t have to solve poverty in order to solve homelessness.

Instead, you can take a more direct path: providing shelter for those who need a temporary safety net and permanent housing for those who lack the health or capacity to right themselves.

Done right, this approach needn’t be that expensive, because we’re not talking about large numbers of people.

A relatively small infusion of new money might suffice to provide homeless individuals with the same guaranteed shelter access we already offer families.

And to battle chronic homelessness, research increasingly shows that the best solution is simply to provide permanent housing. That may sound like a costly proposition, but we’re actually talking about a pretty small population: several thousand chronically homeless individuals in Massachusetts, a few hundred of whom consistently lack shelter.

With needs at this scale, you can make real progress with pilot programs and public-private partnerships — the kinds of efforts Massachusetts is already pursuing.

And unlike so many government programs, which struggle for resources when the economy goes sour, these programs should be more predictable. After all, homelessness doesn’t seem to be shaped by economic cycles.

Nebraska Funds Programs Prepping Inmates for Release

Nebraska recently pushed to reduce chronic prison overcrowding and improve public safety by better preparing an inmate for life beyond his prison sentence. By increasing job training programs and providing more help for inmates troubled by mental illnesses or drug addictions, the state is hoping that they return to society with the job and coping skills to avoid a return trip to prison. It is also funding job training, assistance and housing programs.

Because about 93 percent of prison inmates eventually are released, such re-entry programs are key to keeping them from returning to prison and adding to overcrowding.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Scott Frakes, director of the State Department of Correctional Services, has set a goal of reducing the state prisons’ recidivism rate — the percentage of inmates who return to prison within three years — from 30.1 percent to 28 percent.

State lawmakers, after hearing complaints from inmates and advocates about a lack of job training and other prison programs, allocated an extra $10 million to beef up re-entry programs in 2015 and 2016.

The funds provided about $3 million to create a re-entry services unit within the Corrections Department. Frakes said it marked the first time the agency had been able to dedicate staff solely to preparing inmates for their release.

The rest of the money provided grants for programs across the state that train inmates in construction and academic skills, help them apply for jobs and  overcome mental disorders and chemical addictions.

The programs are offered to inmates both inside prison walls and after release on parole, probation or work release at community facilities. They are also available to inmates discharged within the past 18 months.

You might want to check your preconceptions at the door when you enter one of the state’s newest programs to help inmates transition from prison to society. First, Honu Home looks like a typical home in the College View neighborhood, not like a treatment center for substance abuse and mental illness. It is staffed not by counselors and psychiatrists but by former inmates and addicts, whose tattoos and piercings speak of lives on the streets, not in classrooms.

And there’s not a long list of rules and requirements at Honu Home, as there are at a typical halfway house. No mandatory meetings, no mandatory bedtimes, no 7 a.m. wake-up calls — just a requirement that guests, with the help of peer-support specialists at the house, seek out jobs, mental stability and a place to live.

“We want people to be adults and develop those adult responsibilities that they’ll need when they leave here,” said Destenie Commuso, the houses’ re-entry coordinator.

At Honu Home, Commuso said she can recall only two inmates washing out of the program out of 196 guests over the past year.

The reason, she said, is the house’s peer-support approach: Guests live at a house run by peers who have already overcome addictions and struggles with mental illness who serve as companions on their transition to wellness.

“We’re able to relate, being on the same level as them,” said Commuso, a former methamphetamine addict.

To be sure, the problems facing Corrections are numerous: chronically overcrowded prisons, miscalculated release dates, high turnover of officers and mental health practitioners, an increase in assaults of staff, and a deadly riot a year ago.

When it comes to prison programs, almost everyone agrees there were more opportunities in the past.

A former inmate, James Jones, who now teaches victim-impact classes for inmates, said that when he served time in the late 1980s you could earn a two-year college degree or learn a trade such as carpentry, auto-body repair, auto mechanics, welding or heating/air conditioning technician.

“There was a tremendous difference,” Jones said. “You could actually be released from prison with skills and actually be able to take care of your family with a living wage. Funding cutbacks changed that.

But Vocational and Life Skills Program grants awarded recently by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services include:


Associated Builders & Contractors, for instruction in building trades for 224 inmates, OSHA training for 1,000


Hope of Glory Ministries, for help with finding jobs, social skills and assistance with substance abuse for 72 inmates

$1.2 million

Mental Health Association of Nebraska (Honu Home), to help those with substance abuse and mental health issues find jobs

$1.4 million

Metropolitan Community College, for academic and welding courses for about 700 people


ReConnect, to help 300 inmates find employment and overcome other re-entry hurdles


ResCare Workforce Services, for workshops and one-on-one help for about 550 people in Omaha, Grand Island, Gering and Norfolk with job searches

$1.4 million

Center for People in Need, to help about 282 recently released inmates keep jobs though instruction on domestic violence prevention, communication skills, self-help and family outreach

$1.7 million

Western Alternative Corrections, to help about 168 people with skills such as basic money management, family reunification, cognitive behavior therapy and parenting, and


Prairie Gold Homes, to finish a site-built home in Beatrice, providing hands-on training for inmates in construction.

Why Brit Prison Deaths, Self Harm and Assaults Way Up

Recently Britain’s Ministry of Justice published the Safety in Custody statistical bulletin on deaths, self-harm and assaults in prisons. It made grim reading. Deaths in custody were up 30% from 2015’s figures – self-inflicted by 28%. Self-harm incidents were up 27% and assaults 31%.

But one section hurtled out of the briefing. In the year to March 2016, 11 female prisoners had apparently killed themselves, the biggest such toll in 12 years. This figure accounts for more than 10% of all self-inflicted deaths in prisons, even though women make up less than 5% of the prison population. The week the report came out, another two female prisoners seemingly took their own lives. In 2003 14 women ended their own lives in a 12 month period, six in one jail, Styal, in Cheshire. The following year, 13 female prisoners killed themselves in England.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford


It was hoped that those deaths marked a tragic turning point and they did, to a degree. In 2005, First Night centers opened in women’s prisons, the first, poignantly in Styal. The centers operate mental health assessment programs and detoxification units, aimed at better identifying women at risk when they arrive.

Then, as now, the particular problems facing women in prison were well known. Many female prisoners have been sexually or physically abused as children, and experienced domestic violence as adults. Around a third were in care as children.

Many female prisoners are mothers and primary carers. Every year, around 18,000 children are affected by their mother being sent to jail. As women are usually the main caregiver, many end up in care. We can only guess how much that adds to the anguish of mothers behind bars. When the First Night center at Styal opened soon after Mothers’ Day the then governor said that 41 women had tried to kill themselves in his jail on that day.

In 2006, the government commissioned Baroness Jean Corston to carry out a review of vulnerable women in the Criminal Justice system. Her report made 43 recommendations and all bar two were accepted by the then labor government. Prison sentences should be reserved only for “serious or violent female offenders” she argued and women’s jails should be replaced, over time, by “geographically dispersed small multi-functional custodial units” which would help with mental health problems, addictions, housing and employment. This would help keep families together.

Eric Allison, writing in The Guardian, said:

Although the government rejected her advice to scrap large women’s jails, for a time, it appeared as though things were improving. The death toll dropped, with the next decade averaging three self-inflicted deaths a year. But these latest figures show the system lurching back towards the death tolls we hoped Corston’s legacy had left behind for good.

Why the upsurge? We know the prison service is in crisis, staff cuts and overcrowding are a toxic mix, but with female prisoners particularly, we have to look at one glaring fault – one warning that was ignored.

Despite all the evidence that smaller jails are better at reducing reoffending among female prisoners, of the 10 closed women’s jails in England, only one holds less than 300 women (282), the rest house 300 plus, with the largest holding 527.

In May, Michael Gove told the Radio Times that the the Archers storyline, of a woman locked up for stabbing her abusive husband, “reinforced the case for reform of women’s prisons” and that “too many women are in jail”. But his planned prison reforms barely touch on the plight of women prisoners. All of the six new reform prisons are male institutions and, apart from the closure of Holloway, women inmates barely rate a mention in the proposed changes.

Another country, close to home, has shown us the way. Last year, Scotland’s justice minister, Michael Matheson, scrapped plans to build a new large women’s prison and replaced it with a smaller one, holding just 80 inmates. Other female offenders are being placed in five small regional units offering help with drugs, alcohol, domestic abuse and mental health problems. And this in a country that has seen just one recorded suicide of a female prisoner in 10 years.

It is widely accepted that female prisoners are disproportionately likely to die in jail, but successive governments have ignored all the warning signs. We now have a female prime minister and justice secretary. Will they work together to stem the tide of deaths of female prisoners that should shame us all?

Illinois Juveniles Will Get New Protections While in Police Custody

After a two-hour interrogation without a web-7-1170x780lawyer present, 17-year old mentally impaired Trevon Yates of East St. Louis, IL was charged with a robbery he denied committing and spent nine months in jail–until prosecutors saw the videotape and dropped the charges. Yates later was awarded $900,000 to settle a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department.

The Yates case is an extreme example of what juvenile justice experts say happens far too often: Under pressure by police, without a lawyer or parent present and lacking a clear understanding of their Miranda rights, children and teens can be easily led to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

“So many kids have confessed to things that are not true,” said Illinois state Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, who sponsored a recent bill meant to enhance the legal protections for children who are in police custody. “You can get a child to say anything.”

The Yates video, a “60 Minutes” story that reported on Chicago as the nation’s “False Confession Capital,” and the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer” have raised public awareness and energy around the issue of false confessions and helped spur the push for the legislation.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force noted the need to give youth a stronger shield from police abuse. In its widely publicized April report that was sharply critical of police practices overall, the task force wrote that “CPD has not made the legal rights of juveniles a priority. We have heard that police frequently tell lawyers working on behalf of juveniles that their clients do not have a right to counsel or that the juvenile’s guardian must approve a visit by a lawyer. Youth should be receiving more, not less, protection.”

Chicago Reader reporter Melissa Sanchez wrote:


The task force found that attorneys filled out visitor request forms in less than 1 percent of all Chicago arrests in 2015. For minors, the Chicago Defender later found, the numbers were even worse: Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of arrested juveniles had an attorney.

African American youth are far more likely to be arrested and so more at-risk of potential abuse: Three-fourths of the 14,600 arrests of juveniles in Chicago in 2015 were of black children and teens, according to data from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Experts point out that the bill, SB2370, is a modest step forward for protecting the rights of minors in police custody, though it still falls short of the protections provided in some other states and many western European countries. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The provisions would:

A) Raise the age at which an attorney must be present during questioning in murder or sex offense cases from 13 to 15. Fewer than 100 cases fit this category each year, and most are in Cook County. Juvenile advocates initially wanted to raise the age to 17.
B) Require police to read a simplified version of Miranda rights to all juveniles under the age of 18. After reading the statement, police are required to ask the minor: “Do you want to have a lawyer?” and “Do you want to talk to me?” (In the Yates case, a clinical psychologist stated that, given his low IQ, Yates could not have understood his Miranda rights.)
C) Require police to videotape all interrogations of youth under the age of 18 in any felony case, as well as misdemeanor sex cases. No confession would be admissible in court unless it was videotaped.

Recording the entire interrogation is important to determine whether a child was coerced or pressured into giving a statement, said Benjamin Chambers of the Washington, D.C.-based National Juvenile Justice Network.

There’s no question that having an attorney present is crucial to defending a kids’ rights, and that doesn’t happen enough. But the recording of the entire interrogation is a way to look back and judge whether the kid was pressured or not. It’s an affordable step forward, a sensible and practical way for law enforcement to, frankly, show that they’re doing the right thing.

Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative, said the legislation is “a ridiculously modest bill that will ensure that very young children in incredibly serious circumstances have the protections they need. This helps to move us a little bit closer to really fulfilling the promise of Miranda 50 years later.”

Despite the national trend to provide more legal protections, the laws governing the rights of children in custody still vary widely from state to state. Several have no requirement at all for a lawyer’s presence or videotaping of interrogations, while other states go further than Illinois has thus far, according to data compiled by the Bluhm Legal Clinic on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.

Connecticut and Montana, for example, offer additional protections for minors under the age of 16. Connecticut requires a parent to be present during any police interrogation, and both child and parent must be informed of the child’s Miranda rights. In contrast, Illinois only requires police to make a reasonable attempt to get in contact with parents or legal guardians when their children are in custody.

Richard Hutt, chief of the Juvenile Justice Division of the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, supports the bill but is also among those who say it doesn’t go far enough. He said:

I think we should be in the police station any time a kid is arrested.In more than two decades as a public defender for minors, I have never seen a case in which a child exercised his or her right to call an attorney during an interrogation. Kids just don’t understand they don’t have to talk to a police officer. When in a kid’s existence does he understand that [he] can say something and stop an adult, especially if the adult has a gun and a badge?

Delaware Shelter Head Explains Who Homeless are and What Needs to Be Done

In response to the concerns expressed in recent articles and comments about the homeless, Jeanine Kleimo chairwoman of Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing in Delaware offer some insight based on her experience.

Who are the homeless?

Our organization provides homeless men

Jeanine Kleimo

Jeanine Kleimo

with shelter, meals and assistance with regaining lives of productivity and purpose. We operate a 36-bed shelter along with 42 beds of affordable transitional housing. In addition, we see many male and female adults who are homeless and who come to our daytime Resource Center, which offers shower and laundry facilities, a mailing address, and assistance with accessing employment, registration for public benefits, and guidance with a host of other needs.

During 2015, we provided shelter to more than 280 men. We estimate that there are over one hundred homeless adults in the Dover area at any given time. Two other shelters also assist men and women.

Why are people homeless?

The most obvious answer is the cost of housing, which is not affordable to many at low wage levels —even with employment. Someone working full-time at minimum wage brings home about $300 weekly. Without savings, it is challenging at best and often impossible to save the down payment and first month’s rent on an apartment at these wages.

Finding a decent rental for less than $800 monthly is difficult. Those living in motels often pay most (if not all) of their income for the weekly charge. Families with two sources of income can succeed if they have access to housing to begin with; however, many have poor credit and other obstacles that make them less-than-appealing tenants to landlords in a tight rental market.

Many who are homeless have experienced an unexpected event that results in their homelessness. This includes eviction due to the loss of a job or the break-up of a relationship that centered on shared housing.

Often, those who work at low income levels live paycheck to paycheck, experiencing disaster when the next paycheck is not available. Illness or surgery and the time to recover are other frequent causes of homelessness. We have sheltered men who have become disabled on the job and who lack sufficient savings to sustain themselves and their families when they cannot work. Disability claims — at best — take time to process and often require persistence (and resources) over many months without income beyond food stamps and $79 monthly in general assistance — certainly not enough to pay for housing.

Many believe that “welfare” will provide all that is needed by those who are destitute. In reality, most are eligible only for food stamps, $79 in General Assistance, and Medicaid. Assisted housing has long waiting lists, with a two-year wait common for public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

Those with mental health and substance abuse issues are assisted with referrals to all available sources of help: the problem is that the demand for such services often exceeds the supply. Those who need urgent care for drug withdrawal, for example, may hope for access to a 72-hour detox facility.

As these two centers are in New Castle and Sussex County, transportation is an issue along with the obvious question of what is available after detox. For many with mental illness, very limited supportive housing situations are pursued while others may be moved from one shelter to another. Those who seek to continue illegal drug use or who suffer from alcoholism are among those who continue to make their own way outside of established shelter and housing programs.

How do homeless people get access to shelter?

Shelter beds are allocated primarily through the statewide “211” emergency call system, with referrals to shelters that report available beds. Some individuals do not choose to come into a shelter, where they will have to abide by rules and restrictions and risk eviction for their violation. Some who do come in cannot comply with the structure required and find themselves on the street again. Still others live outdoors or wherever possible during the warmer months and seek refuge in Code Purple sanctuaries on cold nights.

Many shelters provide access for 30 to 45 days. At Dover Interfaith, we have come to recognize that it takes many homeless men a longer time to get back on their feet. Our guests are expected to complete a checklist of tasks in order to have their stay extended beyond the first month, with other tasks required to extend their stay for up to ninety days. The average stay during 2015 was less than fifty days. While this includes those who broke rules and were evicted, the majority are successful in obtaining employment and stable housing before leaving the shelter.

A quick look at a recent set of 36 shelter residents reveals the following details: 24 were recently incarcerated. Most committed non-violent offenses involving drugs; however, most are not addicted now and seek to live drug-free lives. Having a criminal record makes it difficult to obtain employment and housing, even for the most highly-motivated individual who willingly admits to his past mistakes. Some of these young men lived without much parental guidance and got into trouble by befriending the wrong people. Many have limited education and skills, contributing to their challenges in finding employment that is sufficiently well-paid to cover housing costs.

Four suffer from levels of mental illness that limit their ability to maintain stable employment and self-reliant living. Some were discharged from mental health facilities when their limited Medicaid benefits expired. The shelter is not eligible to receive Medicaid payments, as it is not a medical treatment site.

Two men are skilled and have secured full-time salaried jobs that will provide benefits and sufficient income to support independent living. Both are awaiting reinstatement of their driver’s licenses, which were revoked when they were imprisoned. This step further delays their access to employment once they are released from incarceration. Once this is resolved, both will be able to live without assistance.

Two are veterans and are assisted with accessing veterans’ benefits. Three are disabled and in some stage of the application process for disability benefits. Most others have spotty work histories and weak educational backgrounds but are employable. We work with them to help them assess their skills and to prepare employment applications as well as coach them on interview skills and other aspects of their personal presentation.

How does someone move out of homelessness?

In most cases, it takes more than housing. Most of the homeless men we encounter are able to work but lack “soft skills” to enable them to get jobs. Some have prison records or fines to pay. Many have low levels of education and literacy. Most are able to work in jobs that require hard work, and most are able to secure employment in food processing, landscaping, manufacturing production, warehouses, and the like. A few have higher skill levels and simply need short-term assistance.

The Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing provides case management to address the comprehensive needs of shelter residents combined with efforts to encourage local employers to consider their applications. These efforts result in a better-than 60 percent “success rate” of employment for shelter residents. Along the way, many need medical care, encouragement, assistance with obtaining state-issued forms of identification, guidance with personal budgeting and banking, and help with a wide range of family and judicial issues.

We attempt to meet their needs with the help of many community supporters. The network of faith communities, organizations, and individual volunteers operating as the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing becomes an effective substitute for the set of individual relationships that many adults build in order to make sustained employment and personal success possible.

What does it cost to help the homeless?

Lots of numbers are being tossed about. A better question is what does it cost not to help the homeless? There is considerable evidence about the cost of emergency room treatment and public services needed to make it possible for those who live on the street to survive, not to mention the social costs of drug and alcohol abuse that affect many of them. More directly, the cost of providing shelter and basic staffing for Dover Interfaith is approximately $5,000 per bed annually. That’s $180,000 to keep the building operating with utilities, insurance, and basic staffing 24/7 so that 36 men have a place to sleep at night. Meals are provided by faith communities and other volunteers.

This economic cost must be compared with the benefits generated. While valuing stability and the lack of substance abuse or reduction in crime is challenging at best, the “output” in the form of jobs secured and wages earned can be quantified. If 150 men from our shelter went to work last year at minimum wage (with many, in fact, doing better,) then at least $2.5 million was put back into the local economy in exchange for the funds it took to operate the shelter. This means a rate of return on the order of 750 percent or 7.5 times the total operating budget. Surely this is better business than leaving people on the street.

What about housing?

Most admit that there is little truly affordable housing available. The national policy of “Rapid Re-Housing” for the homeless may be a positive concept; but the reality is that few units are available. When possible, we encourage those who have obtained jobs to share housing or to move into transitional housing developed to make it possible for men to save and plan for future independent living. There is not enough available.

What needs to happen?

Those concerned about the homeless need to develop more collaboration and support with the community as a whole, its employers, its landlords, and its local governments. We need to come to a common understanding of the needs of the homeless and of the options and tools available to address them.

We have seen much progress in eight years among the 1,600 to 1,800 men sheltered and the organizations and faith communities we work with. We hope that many others will seek to contribute their ideas and their compassion so that a more inclusive and productive community may be the result.


San Diego Second Chance Program Lowers Recidivism

People serving sentences for nonviolent felonies in San Diego County custody recommit crimes less frequently than those who serve in state prison for similar crimes, according to new data from the San Diego County probation department.Before the 2011 state realignment shifting more nonviolent inmates to county facilities, people returning to San Diego County from state prison went back to prison at a higher rate than for California as a whole, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

It's More Expensive to Do Nothing - A documentary form Humane Exposures Films

Click image for larger size


Now, preliminary numbers measuring recidivism, or the percentage of people who reoffend, suggest that the county has been more successful in rehabilitating the nonviolent offenders.

Ricky Valdez, vice president of programs at Second Chance, an organization that helps people transition back to life on the outside, said:

In many ways San Diego as a community is ahead of the game if you compare to other communities across the country. Organizations involved in rehabilitation are launching programs that would have been unheard of even five years ago. Partners are starting to think outside the box and admit the way we have been doing reentry in our community is not working, so we need to look at other ways to do it.

Since California passed Assembly Bill 109, the public safety realignment law that shifted where sentences were served for nonviolent, non-sexual, non-serious offenders, San Diego County has been responsible for rehabilitating two groups: those who serve their sentences locally and those who serve their sentences in state prison but are supervised by the county probation department after release.

Fourteen percent of individuals released in 2015 who were supervised from start to finish at the local level committed new crimes while still under probation supervision, according to the probation department. That same year, of those who served in state prison but were supervised locally post-release, 36 percent committed new crimes while on probation.

Scott Huizar, a division chief with the probation department, said that the two populations are similar in terms of crimes committed, but they differ by when those crimes were committed. If they committed their crimes before the implementation of AB109, they served in state prison, but if they committed those crimes after AB109, they served locally. Huizar credited the low recidivism rate for those serving locally to the programming that they received while still incarcerated.

“It’s a collaborative approach to address the supervision effort,” he said. “They’re provided with a number of resources.”

He added that the ratio between supervising officers and supervisees is lower for the locally-serving group.

While recidivism is higher for the group that probation supervises post-release, he said it’s still doing better after AB109.

San Diego’s work in reducing recidivism has captured the attention of the federal government. The Department of Labor recently awarded the county one of 19 grants across the nation to establish a job center inside East Mesa Reentry Facility. Second Chance, along with the San Diego Workforce Partnership, helps run the program.

The job center, which launched in February, includes internet access to select websites for job hunting (an unprecedented move given security concerns), as well as a set of suits that inmates can wear as they practice interviews.

Many in county custody under the realignment program end up at the East Mesa facility, which is specifically for inmates with three years or less left in their sentences, so they can prepare to return to society. Officials said that after AB109, East Mesa had to add two new dorm buildings to house the influx of inmates.

So far, 139 people have participated in the new job center. According to Andrew Picard, director of adult programs at San Diego Workforce Partnership, the goal is to help 600 people over the grant’s two-year period, with 100 of those people receiving additional support after release.

The center does more than help with resumes. It works with participants to address other re-entry concerns, such as housing, to ensure that they can be successful in their new jobs.

The job center builds on the vocational programs already available at the facility, where inmates can participate in programs like a National Restaurant Association certification complete with barista training at the fully operational coffee cart inside.

A 54-minute documentary DVD and film IT’S MORE EXPENSIVE TO DO NOTHING, produced by Humane Exposures Films, executive produced by Susan Madden Lankford and directed by award winner Alan Swyer (Rebound), features the voices of criminologists, treatment providers and ex-offenders explaining how the criminal justice system has been failing to motivate incarcerated people to abandon crime and drugs, change their attitudes and live more productive lives. The film notes that when San Diego, California instituted a statutory requirement to provide services to non-violent criminals during and after prison, recidivism rates plunged from 75% to only 16%.

Executive producer Susan Lankford declared:

Diversion is always preferable to harsh detention, which has been shown not to work. Instead, before sentencing, we need to activate a risk/needs assessment of nonviolent offenders to educate, rehabilitate and prepare for re-entry into society.

The film focuses on a number of Southern California programs that have helped incarcerated people become literate, train for gainful employment and make positive life choices that turn them away from drugs and crime. These include juvenile camps such as Camp Bennett, therapeutic communities such as The Lighthouse and Second Chance, and programs for prison-prone homeless people such as Homeless Court and Veteran’s Village.

“Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes” Exposes Women’s Prisons

Susan Madden Lankford wrote a profound book about female incarceration in 2008 that still resonates today. The product of more than two years’ photographing and interviewing in a typical women’s jail, the book combines 326 powerful black-and-white photographs with theMaggots In My Sweet Potatoes by Susan Madden Lankford frank and graphic voices of both the jailed and the jailers, presenting us with a cogent portrait of diffused lives, and a reflective glimpse of emotional and physical imprisonment. Quotes from experts in the fields of justice, rehab, and mental health add depth to the picture, building the case that changes in American society, including neglect and abuse of our youth, contribute to the overloading of our detention system and the brutal cycle of institutionalization. well as the consequences of homelessness, to examine a system that offers no viable safety net for the denizens of our streets, and to seek solutions that will create a better future for society as a whole.

In selecting the book as Web Pick of the Week, Pulisher’s Weekly wrote:

Through photographs, interviews, statistics and other exhaustive research, photographer and author Susan Madden Lankford captured from all angles the experience of women inmates confined to a typical jail in San Diego County. Interviews with jail officials, from deputies to counselors to directors, revealing exhausted, often jaded individuals who lack the resources to do their jobs properly.One deputy says that “”98 percent of inmates have drug histories,”" but funding levels barely keep inmates in food and housing, much less rehab programs. As such, California’s “”three strikes”" law sends women to jail for life without ever offering them a chance at getting clean.

Kristina Edwards came to jail pregnant on charges ranging from kidnapping to attempted murder, crimes she claimed she was too high to recall even being involved with. Lankford follows her progress, like other inmates’, with care and compassion. Delivering her baby chained to a hospital bed, Edwards becomes a symbol of the cycle in which she’s trapped, a fate often presaged by parental abandonment and neglect. Informative, frank, relentless and disturbing, the book’s strong voices and stark format-black and white photos, transcribed Q&As, pull-quotes from subjects and experts-are completely absorbing, raising important questions about why women end up in jail and, too often, keep coming back.

The book garnered several honors, including: the Eric Hoffer Book Awards grand prize, DIY Book Festival’s “Best Book of the Year,” Independent Publisher Book Awards’ gold medal/women’s issues and ForeWord Magazine’s silveraward/social Science and bronze award/women’s issues.

Richard Rhodes, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB wrote:

Our prison systems are fortresses of involuntary servitude, jails their revolving doors. Susan Lankford has sought out the invisible human beings caught in those doors, made them visible, and allowed us to hear their stories and begin to know them. MAGGOTS IN MY SWEET POTATOES is a work of profound humanity. May it also be a harbinger of change.


Susan Madden Lankford Wins InCytes’ Spotlight Award

dtusaInCytes, a public healthcare e-magazine has awarded author and Humane Exposures founder Susan Madden Lankford its 2016 Spotlight Award.

It wrote:

In the early 1990s, Susan Madden Lankford began photographing—and befriending—the homeless on the streets of downtown San Diego. Compelled to learn more, she gained access to a women’s detention center and soon was shooting within its walls, speaking with candor with inmates and staff. Next, pursuing the link between crime and childhood neglect, she met with young people in juvenile hall, challenging them to face their hopes and fears through artwork and the written word.

Lankford’s award-winning books on homelessness, incarceration, and juvenile justice are testament to many years of commitment to complex social issues. Her venture in the realm of documentary film continues this work.

Susan Lankford grew up in the Midwest and holds a BS degree from the University of Nebraska. She attended Ansel Adams’ prestigious workshops, studied under such photographic masters as Richard Misrach and Ruth Bernhard, and spent many years as a successful wildlife photographer and portraitist. The parents of three adult daughters, Susan and Rob Lankford live in San Diego.

.The magazine asked Lankford the most rewarding aspects of her work:

My work includes three books of photojournalism, a documentary film, and a small nonprofit, all focused on the interlinking social issues of homelessness, incarceration, juvenile justice, and child development.

On a national level, I find it very gratifying to see the dialogue changing on the subject of criminal justice—a recognition that we must address the causes of crime, and not just focus on punishment. My documentary It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing is currently used by the FBI in their training. College educators use the books of Humane Exposures as well as the film in their classes, which pleases me deeply.

On a local level, there’s nothing more rewarding than learning that an individual I met on the streets or in women’s detention is now clean, employed, and living a healthier life.

On a personal level, I’ve learned so much from the interesting and often challenging individuals I’ve met, interviewed, and come to know in the course of each project. Phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages from so many on a new path are all particularly rewarding.

Lankford was then asked the most challenging aspect of her work?

One of the biggest challenges I faced when working with the homeless and with incarcerated women and juveniles was gaining their trust, dealing with the suspicions and manipulations of my interview subjects as they came to understand the purpose of my work. Particularly difficult was bearing witness to the trauma so many of the juveniles have experienced in their short lives.

Dealing with red tape and regulations was challenging as well, gaining access to prisoners, negotiating with staff. I was even required to take a self-defense class before entering juvenile hall.

After the solitary creative process of photography and photojournalism, documentary filmmaking brought a new set of challenges—collaborating with a director, cameraman, and other film professionals while maintaining the message I wanted to deliver.

But in all cases the rewards outweigh the challenges.

Finally she was asked what message she has for her readers?

The greatest lesson I have learned in my work is that crucial social issues cycle through generations. If we don’t address the trauma and neglect experienced by so many of our young people, before long we will see them on our streets, in our hospitals, and enmeshed in our criminal justice system. These issues aren’t just social issues—they’re economic issues. The economic burden on society is lessened when we examine the lives of society’s disenfranchised with compassion and common sense, then take the necessary steps to effect change.

My current focus is on underserved youth, primarily through my nonprofit Humane Smarts and our urban garden SMARTS Farm. Here, young people can dig in dirt, learn about bugs, express themselves through photography, and grow, harvest, prepare, and enjoy healthy food, all while interacting with community gardeners and compassionate educators.

Four Keys to Preventing or Replacing Incarceration of Children

This is an article by the founder of this blog, SUSAN MADDEN LANKFORD:

The path of children into prison begins in the home, the school and the community. Therein lies the keys to diverting this path or paving a way out.

Most of the 2.3 million Americans in prison today

Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

have children in the juvenile justice system (500,000) or in foster care (550,000). The majority of these kids don’t have to be there. There are four essential things we can do reduce or eliminate the at-risk behavior that sends them into juvenile halls or paid parenting.

Very often these children have been abused, traumatized and/or abandoned, and their education has been denied or neglected. Frequently, the parents of these children mistreat them through ignorance, immaturity-induced rage, their inability to love and/or the lack of secure boundaries. Angry, unhappy youths erupt with incomprehensible levels of acting out and self-destruction, often belonging to gangs and experiencing early teen pregnancy, which only exacerbate the problems.

Youth incarceration is supposed to be geared toward rehabilitation, not punishment. But because America instinctively chooses to lock these troubled youths up and forget them, and because most jurisdictions lack statutorily mandated recovery and remediation programs, there is a shocking 75% recidivism rate over two years among these youngsters.

Non-violent youths would be much better off learning a trade and developing positive work ethics, performing community service, helping others, caring for animals in Humane Society settings and belatedly developing reading and math skills that earn them diplomas or GEDs.

I recently published a book, BORN, NOT RAISED: VOICES FROM JUVENILE HALL, based on interviews with pediatric psychiatrists, neurobiologists, judges, probation officers and other professionals—as well as discussions my daughter and I conducted with more than 120 incarcerated teenagers—eight of them weekly. This research yielded highly useful insights into ways to end or prevent youth incarceration and keep more kids out of foster homes.

A first key is proper early childhood development. In my book I present a timeline by Dr. Diane Campbell, a leading specialist in child development, in which she marks the critical stages for successful development or for the derailments that push forward to the next critical marker. For instance, the two-year old tantrums that are not resolved by age five are disruptive in the kindergarten classroom, causing havoc for the teacher and the other children who are vulnerable. If the parent is defensive, this disruptive child will not receive help or resolution for his or her issues. Most parents do not receive with positive affirmation essential messages from teachers that pertain to their child’s emotional well-being.

At age five, a level of guilt awareness needs to have been achieved. Age seven to nine tends to be an inappropriate and unsociable stage, where kids do a lot of acting out, sometimes with violence. By teenage years, youths who have not been properly educated and imbued with self-soothing social skills, confidence and curiosity, are headed for trouble.

Secondly, one of the main things I learned, which I stress in my book, is that there is a critical need for a family with a good-enough, consistent, loving and nurturing figure who helps children through the developmental stages so as to produce an empathic, responsible youth, capable of resilience, adjustment and impulse control.

I also indict today’s educational system for its failure to respond to the critical needs of students. I detail terrific programs which have discovered how to motivate kids who can’t meet classroom demands.

A third major point of my book is that we need to start teaching parenting early. Fourteen-year-olds in juvenile detention often have kids but lack any ideas on how to parent properly. Drug abuse and gang membership are growing exponentially today, so we need to teach the reasons and means to avoid these traps.

Fourth, every community should insist on and offer programs that rehabilitate incarcerated children, teaching them useful skills and helping them develop positive, life-affirming attitudes. In my community of San Diego, many fine programs of this type have been offered, until a recent economic crisis forced the reduction or curtailment of many of them. In California, we spend $14 billion on locking folks up, without mandating improvement before release. We are also having early releases from state facilities, to save state expenditures.

In the media we constantly hear that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Yet we rank low in quality of education. And we are number one in the world for the most incarcerated.

Homeless Student Problem Growing Nationwide

Student homelessness is on the rise, with more than 1.3 million homeless students identified during the 2013-14 school year, according to a recent report. This is a 7 percent increase from the previous year and more than double the number of homeless students in 2006-07. As high as these numbers seem, they are almost certainly undercounts. Despite increasing numbers, these students – as well as the school liaisons and state coordinators who support them – report that student homelessness remains an invisible and extremely disruptive problem.

Students experiencing homelessness struggle to stay in school, to perform well, and to form meaningful connections with peers and adults. Ultimately, they are much more likely to fall off track and eventually drop out of school more often than their non-homeless peers.

Students who experience homelessness are more likely than their non-homeless peers to be held back from grade to grade, have poor attendance or be chronically absent from school, fail courses, have more disciplinary issues and drop out of school. These negative effects are amplified the longer a student remains homeless.

Students who experience homelessness are disproportionately minorities, and LGBTQ students are heavily over-represented in the unaccompanied youth population.

The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that 75 percent of homeless elementary school students performed below grade level in reading and math. That number rose to 85 percent for high school students.

Students who are homeless struggle with learning disabilities and emotional difficulties at higher rates than their housed peers. Homeless students also face the challenge of being both over- and under-identified for special education.

hps-graduation-rateOnly five states – CO, KS, VA, WA, WY – now report high school graduation rates for homeless students. In all five, rates lag well behind grad rates for all students, even other low-income students. The gap between all students and homeless students in Washington State, for example, was 31 percentage points in 2014.

In the study 82 percent say being homeless had a big impact on their life overall, 72 percent on their ability to feel safe and secure, 71 percent on their mental and emotional health, 62 percent on their physical health, and 69 percent on their self-confidence. 60 percent say it was hard to stay in school while they were homeless; 42 percent say they dropped out of school at least once.

Half say they had to change schools during their homelessness, and many did so multiple times. 62 percent say the process was difficult to navigate, citing proof of residency requirements (62 percent), lack of cooperation between their old and new schools (56 percent), the need for medical records (50 percent), being behind on academic credits (48 percent), needing a parent or guardian to sign forms (48 percent) and transportation to and from school (48 percent).

One of the most significant challenges to meeting the needs of homeless youth is simply identifying them. Two thirds of the youth participating in this study (67 percent) say they were uncomfortable talking with people at their school about their housing situation and related challenges. Parents may not want to report their living situation for fear of losing custody of their children. And unaccompanied youth fear being placed into the foster care system.

The fluidity of youth homelessness further compounds the difficulties of identifying homeless students. Young people frequently drift between different living arrangements, or fall in and out of stable housing repeatedly.

78 percent of youth surveyed for this report say homelessness was something they experienced more than once. 94 percent say they stayed with other people rather than in one consistent place; 50 percent say they slept in a car, park, abandoned building, bus station or other public place. 47 percent say they were homeless both with a parent and alone.

When students were asked what they needed, they cited as very or fairly important having someone to talk to or check in with for emotional support (86 percent), connecting with peers or maintaining friendships (86 percent), participating in school activities including sports, music, art, and clubs (82 percent).

58 percent say their schools did only a fair or poor job or should have done more to help them stay in and succeed in school. Just 25 percent say their schools did a good job helping them find them housing.

61 percent say they were never connected with any outside organization while homeless; 87 percent of those who were connected found the help valuable.

The report recommends that to help homeless students, people at the school, community, state and national level must:

1) Ensure that the Every Student Succeeds Act amendments on identifying and serving homeless students in the McKinney-Vento Act and Title I part A are fully implemented in states, schools, and districts;
2) Expand outreach efforts to inform homeless students and families of their rights and to raise community awareness;
3) Ensure that schools have the resources to actively engage with homeless students to help them stay in school;
4) Build connections between community organizations and schools, then connect homeless students to those outside supports;
5) Set community and national goals around outcomes and graduation rates for homeless students, and use data to drive progress; and
6) Increase efforts to provide more affordable housing.