Undocumented Homeless in D.C and Elsewhere are “Invisible”

They have no documentation, no stable home, and no support. Often unnoticed, their struggle is hidden within the walls of overcrowded apartments and in the shadows of government agencies. These immigrants are what Janethe Peña, executive director of D.C. Doors, calls the city’s “invisible” homeless.

Peña knows the story all too well. As a

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

third-generation immigrant from Nicaragua, she came to the U.S. with her mother when she was 18 months old. Fleeing the civil war in their home country, they came to D.C. and moved into a three-bedroom home with 14 of their family members.

“Undocumented homelessness is a major issue in D.C.,” Peña said. “You just can’t find it. Because there are no data.”

No precise national figures exist on the number of undocumented homeless people. According to Peña, a major reason for this lack of data is that an undocumented individual experiencing homelessness is very rarely going to identify as undocumented or homeless for fear of deportation.

Peña says:

The biggest fear is falling into the system. Because falling into the system means they come out of the shadows. And a lot of individuals prefer to go from place to place — to overcrowded and unsafe situations — than to be brought out of the shadows, especially with the new [Trump] administration.

“Because of the current rhetoric towards immigrants, this hesitancy to give out personal information holds true regardless of legal status. Both documented and undocumented immigrants are reluctant and fearful. You will not see someone go to an office and publicly say they need assistance with their housing. Maybe before, but certainly not now.

This has proven to be a struggle for D.C. Doors and organizations like it, who can no longer afford to aid only the Latino homeless community. In order for D.C. Doors to increase their funding and visibility, they must and have begun to work with communities outside of the undocumented and Latino sectors.

“The reality is that in order for us to be viewed as a force in the homeless community, we need to start serving more mainstream. And that’s sad, but it’s the truth,” she said.

It is Peña’s own experience with urban poverty and migrating to a new country that led her to commit her life to education about and advocacy for homeless immigrants. It’s what led her to found D.C. Doors.

Originally called the Latino Transitional Housing Partnership (LTHP), D.C. Doors was created as a program to fill the gap in transitional and permanent housing needs for Latinos living in the District. Today, the nonprofit provides comprehensive assistance to immigrant Latino families and single Latina women facing housing crises. The organization strives to help homeless families and low-income families break the cycles of poverty and homelessness. The individuals they help usually fall under the umbrella of the “invisible” homeless.

Eva Maria Chavez, a former policy intern at D.C. Doors now working at the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, described this community as the people “you ride the metro with, you buy food from, but you have no idea that they don’t have a place to call home because they are invisible to you.”

Juana Perdomo, who migrated to the United States from El Salvador, lost her apartment in 2015 after her building complex changed owners and the cost of living increased. After working in the U.S. for seven years, seven days a week, she found herself without a place to sleep.

“I had nowhere to live. I had to go from place to place, rent rooms here and there,” Perdomo said. “So, my social worker connected me to Janethe [of D.C. Doors] and I qualified for their program and began to live there…but I still don’t have a place of my own, I still don’t know where I will go from here.”

Perdomo, who came to the U.S. to be able to financially support her daughter in El Salvador, is one of many that D.C. Doors has helped. However, according to Chavez, the funds and resources needed to fully help undocumented homeless people in D.C. are simply not there.

This is largely because undocumented immigrants are explicitly prohibited from federal programs due to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, a major federal overhaul that restricted immigrant access to welfare programs, among other federal public benefits.

Even the biggest funder of homeless individuals and families, the Department of Housing and Urban Development(HUD), is not permitted to support aid to undocumented individuals. This restriction puts nongovernmental organizations like D.C. Doors in a tough position because of the myriad of barriers created by federal regulation.

Escalating the current climate surrounding this community, the Trump administration has threatened to take away federal funding from “sanctuary cities,” a blanket term which refers to various policies that prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement, such as asking about immigration status during routine stops or cooperating with detainment orders.

The District has implemented sanctuary policies since 1984, and Mayor Muriel Bowser reaffirmed this status in November 2016 before going as far as to set up a legal services fund for immigrant justice in January.

“It’s a waiting game,” Peña said. “We haven’t had a raid yet, but they are happening right outside our borders. If you start seeing them in D.C., then that is something to worry about because that means that we are not really a sanctuary city.”

D.C. has approximately 70,000 immigrants, of which roughly 25,000 are undocumented.

And they face yet another obstacle when you look at the technical definition of homelessness under HUD. The HUD definition of homelessness, that is also used at the local level, is limited to chronic homelessness. Overcrowding is not one of the reasons why an individual or family can be considered to be experiencing homelessness. So, even if an individual is living in a one-bedroom apartment with 10 other individuals, they are not considered homeless and eligible for assistance under the HUD definition.

Chavez says:

This population needs to have their specific needs addressed. Just like youth and veterans have their specific homeless resources, undocumented homeless should have their own. The experience is different. This population usually finds the most hidden places. They are scared. I think this needs to come to light and more people need to start demanding these resources. We need to protect these individuals that are too often treated like animals. These are just people who are fleeing countries in warfare and in extreme poverty.


© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Folsom Prison Programs Benefit Inmates and Community

Folsom State Prison first opened in 1880 and has come a distance from its harsh, punitive roots, increasingly offering a wide range of rehabilitation and re-entry programs. The facility houses primarily medium-security males but also contains minimum-security facilities for both males and females, and offers programs that not only build inmate’s skills, but that also have a direct impact on the community outside of the prison.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recognizes that programming opportunities are the best way to prepare an offender for success upon release, ensuring that programs are available at all stages while in prison, and upon parole. These programs benefit the community in numerous ways including reducing recidivism, which contributes to lower taxes and costs, and increasing numbers of ex-offenders that can effectively re-enter society and contribute to it.

Some of these programs also have immediate tangible benefits to the community — such as providing bicycles to children, supplying hand-sewn items to charities, and delivering well-trained puppies that eventually become service dogs.

California's Folsom Prison

California’s Folsom Prison

Canine Companions for Independence currently has 8 puppies in training at the Folsom Women’s Facility. Each dog is paired with an inmate, who is responsible for its care and basic training 24/7. These dogs will go on to do more advanced training, and hopefully pass muster to become service dogs for a wide variety of community members in need, including children with autism and veterans suffering from PTSD.

In the meantime, not only do the dogs receive care and attention, the inmates involved take pride in their service, given responsibility to care for a creature for completely non-selfish reasons. Participants learn a lot about themselves, build self-esteem, learn group dynamics, and come to appreciate unconditional love and the importance of sustained, long-term goals. The puppies are also pretty good stress relievers inside the prison walls.

Hooks and Needles is another initiative at Folsom. It began in 2011 as a charitable crocheting and knitting program with the purpose of helping inmates to design, develop, and craft various handicrafts such as booties, bonnets, blankets and toys for donation to hospitals, shelters and children’s care facilities. More than 1800 items have been donated since its inception. This program teaches inmates new skills, and there is a direct tangible benefit to the local community.

In a similar vein, another program that has been running for 20 years sees inmates repair and refurbish bicycles, which are then given to children in need year-round, with a particular focus on Christmas. Local service clubs contribute to the program by donating paint, parts and tools for the prison bicycle shop.

Beyond those programs, Folsom’s other rehabilitative programming focuses on helping prisoners become more productive, address issues such as addiction, and learn how to successfully re-enter society. Each offender’s risks, needs, and skills are assessed upon incarceration, and each is enrolled in the appropriate programs.

Vocational and educational programs include masonry, welding, auto mechanics, GED, ESL, parenting skills, college programs and correspondence courses. Inmates can participate in a pre-release program called California New Start Prison to Employment Transition Program, consisting of transition planning, job searching and applications, interview preparation, and career orientation. A transitional treatment facility houses inmates and parolees where they tackle their substance abuse issues. About 40 parolees per month graduate from the program.

This holistic approach to helping inmates come out of prison better prepared to participate in society than they were when they entered is an example of a system focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment. In the best-case scenario, these opportunities help ensure those released have dealt with their demons, and are prepared with new and relevant skills to rejoin the community and the workforce, becoming — perhaps for the first time — functioning members of society.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Seattle’s King Co. Tries Restorative Justice Programs to Lower Youth Detention

King County juvenile justice and youth services leaders held a press roundtable to provide the latest update on the newest programs focusing on community engagement and restorative justice.

“We are very proud of how far we’ve come and the path we’re on,” said King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Laura Inveen. “Our work is far from over, and we plan to continue on. We expect to be a national leade in reducing juvenile detention and to end racial disproportionality in all of our systems, not just juvenile.”


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

King County has seen a 73-percent drop in the average daily juvenile detention population since 1998 and 10 fewer youth of color in detention on an average day in 2016, compared to 2015. These results were achieved because of the new programs that have recently launched, which are designed to provide support to the youth that is close to entering the juvenile justice system and prevent that from happening.

There isn’t a silver bullet to how the system is able to sustain a decrease in rational disproportionality in King County. According to Chief Juvenile Court Judge Wesley Saint Clair, it’s a universe of things that keeps them on track.

“It’s a combination of programs like these and training our staff,” Saint Clair said. “Sometimes it’s about having a conversation about institutional racism, about privilege and bias within our staff. It’s not a single item.”

King County Deputy Prosecutor Jimmy Hung with the Juvenile Unit highlighted the Family Intervention & Restorative Services program. FIRS allows for the youth arrested for domestic violence to be entered into a 24/7 facility that provides them with family counseling, mental health services and drug and alcohol services. Since its launch last January, FIRS has decreased juvenile domestic violence cases by 62 percent.

Hung said:

The focus of this program is, instead of arresting kids from the home, taking them into detention and stripping them of their clothes, we bring them to our facility. The first question they get there is, ‘How are you doing? How can we help you?’

Best Starts for Kids is about to launch this year. It’s intended to support kids from birth to the age of 24 by providing parent support, health care, educational and employment support. Its strategic advisor Sheila Capestany says:

We’re about promotion, prevention and early intervention. We want to be able to turn around and set them up to better their lives. I always keep in mind the 80 year olds that would be able to say, ‘Boy, what a rough start in life, but the rest of it was great.’ We’re always thinking of what can we do now to make it their story.

A pilot program in Tukwila is coming this year that will focus on youth theft cases, using case management resources to hold youth accountable for their actions. The program is led by the Juvenile Justice Equity Steering Committee and funded through the $360 million Best Starts for Kids levy.

The 180 Program offers to drop charges for youth that choose to attend a workshop that helps them work through their life struggles and possibly be paired up with a mentor. More than 1,500 youth have been able to avoid charges by participating in the program since its launch in 2012.

Other programs include Creative Justice, Peacemaking Circles, Education and Employment Training, Juvenile Drug Court and Partnership for Youth Justice. What all these programs have in common is that they all try to focus on involving the community to help the troubled youth start a better life and become contributing community members.

Saint Clair said:

I would like to work myself out of the job. It’s because the work that we are doing is really the work that has to be embedded in the community. Institutions cannot do the work of restorative practice; we need to empower the community and delegate our authority to the community and be able to say these are all of our kids.

All levels of community are being engaged in the programs, from parents to teachers, and community leaders that come together to provide better services to youth that need it. However, one of the most crucial parts of this process is finding the right messengers that can speak the kids’ language.

Jason Clark, equity and social justice advocate for the juvenile court, says:

One of the most valuable things in this piece is incredible messengers. It’s the people that have been previously incarcerated and been able to get back into the society. We’ve got to have people in our community that speak the language of these kids and who understand the challenge of that transformation.

With these programs showing a lot of success, a question came up to the panel regarding the planned building of the new $210 million Children and Family Justice Center. The panelists were eager to weigh in on the issue.

Inveen had pointed out that money allocated for the courthouse comes from a levy, and can’t be diverted to any of the restorative justice and prevention programs. While the number of juvenile cases have been decreasing every year, there are still those that need to be detained, such as those charged with murder, sex offenses, robbery in first and second degree, and any crimes involving the use of firearms.

Saint Clair said the new detention center is also meant to accommodate youth that are currently being held in an adult jail and charged as adults. Also, the current facility does not hold the newly shaped stance on juvenile detention.

“[The current] detention facility was built in a time when we as a society were more punishment focused versus rehabilitation,” Hung said. “This gives us a prime opportunity to provide humane conditions for the employees, for youth to be provided with holistic services, and have space that has a lot of natural light and fresh air.”

“We want to know what the community wants to see within those walls, but it’s currently 3-4 years down the road in planning,” Inveen said. “The thought was to not identify the uses of the [space provided via reduction from 140 to 112 beds] now and waiting closer to opening the doors of the center.”

The panel ended on a positive note about the aspirational goal to reach a zero-detention rate within the juvenile justice system.

“I embrace the challenge,” Hung said. “If you look at other developed countries like Japan, they basically have achieved zero detention. We are truly one of the greatest countries in the world, and I think we can do it. It’s going to take more than what we do in our system; it’s the community as well. It’s something we all aspire to.”

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Seattle’s King Co.

Seattle Mayor Outlines $275 Million Homelessness Plan


Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

The $275 million raised over five years from a property-tax levy proposed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray would provide rental subsidies to get people off the streets. It would also be used to expand shelters and treatment services as well as pump more resources into the newly created navigation team — a group of outreach workers and police officers dedicated to the city’s homeless issue.

The mayor will try to qualify the levy for the August ballot as a citizens’ initiative. In order to qualify for the ballot, 20,638 signature would be needed.

“I know there won’t be agreement on all sides, but business as usual has not worked,” Murray said.

During his State of the City address, Murray said he wants to increase property taxes this year to generate more money for the city’s homelessness crisis.

“My hope is that this plan will put the squeeze on the problem,” he said.

As he announced his plans for the additional funding raised through property taxes, Murray said, again, that the help he’s been seeking from the federal government isn’t coming.

“It has become clear to me since the presidential election that we are on our own,” he said.

Murray said he formed an advisory group for how to raise $55 million. The city currently spends more than $8 million a year on emergency shelters, more than $4 million a year on transitional housing and more than $9 million a year on permanent supportive housing.

Recently the city released the results of a $100,000 survey of about 1,000 homeless people, and officials with the city’s Human Services Department touted the importance of more affordable housing and more low-barrier shelters.

Murray referred to the survey in a recent news conference, saying that it “busted many of myths” that we have about the homeless. He pointed out that, according to  the survey, 40 percent are employed, 20 percent said housing affordability is the main reason they’re homeless, 30 percent are under 30 (years old), 35 percent are suffering from a substance abuse disorder, and 23 percent come from our foster care system, 14 percent are veterans, and 25.5 percent are African Americans.

“We also learned that this is not Freeattle,” Murray said. “70 percent of the people who are homeless lived in this area. They worked and they are our neighbors.”

Murray also said that most — or 90 percent of those surveyed — want services and housing.

KIRO 7 News is tracking community-generated reports of sanctioned and unauthorized camps to help illustrate the size and scope of this crisis. Seattle leaders do not keep a public map of homeless camps. The city’s sanctioned homeless camps are a temporary fix to Seattle’s homeless crisis, according to the mayor’s office.

Murray’s long-term solution, “Pathways Home,” involves expanding 24-hour shelter services and refocusing the city’s homeless solutions to an individual-based approach. The program is expected to take a couple of years to set up.

Meanwhile, the city has implemented a “bridging the gap” program. Seattle only has a handful of sanctioned homeless camps under this program. The rest of the camps that pop up across the city are unauthorized. The city of Seattle defines a camp as three or more tents.

More than 2,000 people are unsheltered in Seattle on any given night, according to the latest homeless count by volunteers.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Skyrocketing Female Prison Population in Oregon

The nation is facing a massive increase in the number of women who are incarcerated — female inmates increased by 700 percent from 1980 to 2014 — and Oregon is no exception. The number of women imprisoned in the Oregon Department of Corrections has nearly tripled over the past 20 years even though women are not committing more frequent or serious crimes, said 

Dr. Emily Salisbury, an associate professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Salisbury warned of the consequences of not addressing the spike in female imprisonment only a few months after funding for a second women’s prison in Oregon was rejected by lawmakers.

In December, the Oregon Legislature’s Emergency Board turned down a request by Oregon Corrections Director Colette Peters for $3.8 million to prepare a former prison in Salem for inmates in 2017.


The Coffee Creek Correctional Institution in Wilsonville has exceeded its 1,280-inmate capacity since May 18. When the prison fully opened in 2002, it held 646 women. Today, it holds 1,290. There are no plans to open an additional facility, but the emergency board will revisit the issue in March.

Oregon’s prisons are not the only facilities seeing more women every year. The number of women in jails nationwide has increased 14-fold since 1970, when three-quarters of counties didn’t have a single female inmate.

Fifty-six women currently are incarcerated in the Marion County jail. Numbers have fluctuated over the years, according to county data, but between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of female inmates jumped from about 14 percent to more than 17 percent.

Rural county jails are facing some of the biggest increases, according to a 2015 study by the Vera Institute of Justice.

If the increased severity and frequency of crime is not on the rise, what is behind the spike in female incarceration?
Salisbury said:

Much of what is driving this is not women becoming more violent or becoming more problematic, but the fact that our sentencing laws have changed. Certainly, the war on drugs has been a war on women, particular women of color.

She pointed to Measure 57 — a 2008 law that increased sentences for certain drug and property crime offenses frequently committed by women — as one of the contributors to the increase.

Sentencing strategies, like everything else in the criminal justice system, are based on the dynamics of male offenders, she said.

Salisbury added:

This, of course, doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t be punished or held accountable. Lawmakers and stakeholders need to take a look at what pathways led women to incarceration and recidivism in the first place.

During her study of about 300 women on probation, several reoccurring stories piqued Salisbury’s interest. Female offenders typically experienced childhood victimization, family violence, unhealthy relationships, unsafe housing and low levels of economic capital. Salisbury said different conversations, policies and practices are needed to address these underlying issues.

“If we don’t address core issues, we’ll continue to see them cycling through the system,” she said.

State officials recognize the unique needs of incarcerated women and are taking the steps to address them. In recent years, Oregon became one of 22 states to adopt the Women’s Risk Needs Assessment. And according to a statewide survey, Oregonians broadly support a preventative approach to incarceration. About two-thirds of those surveyed said they would support a preventive program over a punitive approach.

Going forward, Salisbury said she’d like to see judges and other community stakeholders educated on core issues facing female offenders and wide investment in female-responsive approaches. A careful look is needed at existing practices to make sure they aren’t backfiring because of gender.

“Contrary to what some people have said about justice-involved women needing a timeout in prison, I just simply don’t agree,” Salisbury said. “Women don’t need a time out, they need a way out.”

They need a way out of the insidious violence, trauma, victimization and discrimination that have plagued their lives, she continued, adding that these women will never escape the cycle without programs and interventions specific to their needs.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

New Jersey Weighing Bill to Streamline Parole, Create Inmate Re-entry Plans

cellCertain low-level inmates in New Jersey would be guaranteed parole at their earliest eligible date if they met specific requirements while in prison, should a proposal in the state Legislature become law. Corrections officials would also help inmates develop a “re-entry plan” while still incarcerated, a sort of road map for life on the outside after they are released.

“It will change the entire culture of corrections in our society,” said Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Hudson, who sponsored the bill, “so that a prisoner comes out of prison as a better person than when they went in.”

Many offenders sentenced to prison can be released early for good behavior under the supervision of a parole officer. But in New Jersey, it is common for inmates to “max out” their sentences and be released without supervision, as opposed to getting out of jail early on parole.

According to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2014, the state had the ninth-highest “max-out” rate in the nation, with 41 percent of inmates serving their maximum possible prison sentences. That was nearly double the national average of 21 percent of inmates who served their maximum sentences.

Under the bill, inmates would be released on parole as soon as they became eligible if they met certain conditions: a) They had not been convicted of a violent crime, b) they had not committed any serious disciplinary infractions in the previous five years, c) they had completed rehabilitation programs and d) crime victims had been notified.

Release on so-called “administrative parole” would not require a hearing before the state parole board.

Research has supported the idea that inmates released on parole are less likely to commit subsequent crimes than convicts who serve their maximum prison sentences and get released without state supervision.

New Jersey parolees released in 2008 were 36 percent less likely to return to prison within three years of release than ex-prisoners who served their full sentences, according to Pew.

Roseanne Scotti, state director of the New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance, said:

Longer sentences actually increase the chance that someone will commit another crime. People who ‘max out’ have much higher rates of recidivism than people who are released and have supervision in the community to provide them support in terms of re-integrating.

Under the bill, a new Division of Reentry and Rehabilitative Services would be created within the Department of Corrections to inform inmates about available programs and services and help each inmate create an individualized re-entry plan. Parolees would also be awarded credits for good behavior that would reduce the length of their post-incarceration supervision.

Lesniak said the changes would save taxpayer money, allow the state to close several prisons and enhance public safety. “This is what corrections ought to be about,” he said.

The full Senate has already passed the legislation, which is now awaiting a vote in an Assembly committee.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Negative Impacts of Intimate Partner Violence on Kids

One in three women and one in four men

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

have been victims of (some form of) physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime, according to a 2010 report by the CDC.

Abusive tendencies are far more reaching than the visibility of physical harm. Put-downs, controlling who a partner sees or what he/she does, telling a partner what to wear, limiting a partner’s activities, accusations of bad parenting and threats to take away the children are ways that a perpetrator plays upon the emotions of his or her victim.

The often overlooked victim of domestic violence or intimate partner violence is the child. Incidentally, some contend that domestic violence relates to a husband/wife while IPV encompasses any intimate relationship.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquent Prevention reports that one in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year. They may be exposed to the violence, or hear the sounds of screams and tears, smashed furniture or glass; they may see the subsequent injuries, or perhaps be assaulted themselves.

The impact on a child goes far beyond the moments of violence. Children exposed to intimate partner violence may see their parents’ bruises or other visible injuries, or bear witness to the emotional consequences of violence such as fear or intimidation without having directly witnessed violent acts.

David Finkelhor, a sociologist from the University of New Hampshire, collaborated with experts in 2003 to write, “Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey.” The publication stated that children who grow up with violence in the home learn early and powerful lessons about the use of violence in interpersonal relationships. The authors comment that all too often, children who are exposed to violence undergo lasting physical, mental and emotional harm. They may be more prone to dating violence, delinquency, further victimization and involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Finkelhor and his co-authors add that being exposed to violence may impair a child’s capacity for partnering and parenting later in life, continuing the cycle of violence into the next generation. These children are at greater risk for internalized behaviors such as anxiety and depression and for externalized behaviors such as fighting, bullying, lying or cheating.

They also are more disobedient at home and at school, and are more likely to have social competence problems, such as poor school performance and difficulty in relationships with others. Child witnesses display inappropriate attitudes about violence as a means of resolving conflict and indicate a greater willingness to use violence themselves.

The American Academy of Pediatrics took a bold stand in 1998 declaring that “The abuse of women is a pediatric issue.” In its 1998 Report from the Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, the AAP stated that children whose mothers are being assaulted are also likely to be victims. Studies indicate that child abuse occurs in 33 to 77 percent of families in which there is abuse of adults.

Intimate partner violence also affects parenting, according to the OJDDP. The emotional consequences of being injured, harassed or terrified may be significant for the parent who is victimized. That parent may be less attuned to children’s needs or less emotionally available to the children. However this does not mean that victims of intimate partner violence are inherently abusive or neglectful of their children. Parents who batter are generally less involved with child rearing, more likely to use physical punishment and less able to distinguish or recognize the child’s needs as separate from the parent’s needs.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

Housing First Preferable to Tiny Houses, Homeless Camps, Consultant Tells Sonoma Co.

Many of Sonoma County, CA’s key efforts J1031-4-11_RenderingSmaimed at addressing the local homeless crisis, including transitional housing, sanctioned homeless camps, tiny homes and safe parking sites, will do little to alleviate chronic homelessness, said Iain De Jong, an internationally recognized advocate for the homeless, during a recent conference on homeless solutions. De Jong, president and CEO of Canada-based OrgCode Consulting Inc, which works with nonprofits on strategies and planning, challenged local government officials and homeless services providers to stop trying to “fix people” and simply house them.

“Homelessness has never been ended by a hut, or a campground or a safe parking spot. Never,” he said, speaking at a “Summit on Homeless Solutions” organized by the Santa Rosa Homeless Collective, a local consortium of homeless service providers and local government agencies.

At its core was the “housing first” model, an approach that seeks to provide permanent housing to homeless people as quickly as possible, and later provide support services as needed. Under the model, homeless people with the gravest needs are prioritized first for services, and no conditions are placed on them, such as requirements that people remain clean, sober, compliant and agreeable before they are granted housing.

De Jong, a champion of the housing first model, said programs aimed solely at preventing homelessness and teaching homeless people the life skills necessary to manage their housing are a waste of time.

“That doesn’t end homelessness. All it does is take resources and time away,” he said, adding that such programs must be part of an independent, permanent housing program and have that as the ultimate goal. “We have to focus on what works, and we have to stop confusing being busy with being effective.”

Organizers of the conference said they welcomed the opportunity to rethink the effectiveness of local homeless programs.

“He’s challenging our assumptions,” said Santa Rosa City Councilman Tom Schwedhelm, a member of the Santa Rosa Homeless Collective.

Schwedhelm said those involved in finding solutions to the local homeless crisis are questioning the effectiveness of their programs, while examining the systems in place that are barriers to change.

“I’m hoping we as a city can be a leader in this,” working alongside the county and local service providers, Schwedhelm said.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said she didn’t “disagree with him on most of the things he said” and noted that the county has adopted a housing first approach to homelessness. She defended the county’s project to build a cluster of a dozen homes, to be named Veterans Village, as a permanent housing plan.

Zane said the county was also a key partner in the opening last year of the Palms Inn, a former motel converted into 104 permanent housing units for chronically homeless people and homeless veterans. The program is regarded as a prime example of the housing first model.

Zane said that the safe parking and sanctioned homeless encampments are emergency responses to homelessness and not regarded as permanent housing solutions. She said she would like to see the county enforce its housing first policy with local homeless service providers that receive county funds.

© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford

States Must Move Funding from Correctional Facilities to Community-Based Treatment

Erica Webster, the communications and policy analyst at the Center of Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, wrote this important article.


Erica Webster

From its peak in 1996 to the most recent national data available for 2014, the U.S. juvenile arrest rate has fallen by 65 percent overall. In New York City, juvenile arrests fell by 51 percent from 2011 to 2015. In Texas, from the peak in 1994 to 2014, juvenile arrest rates for violent offenses dropped by 74 percent. In California, the nation’s most populous state, a recent report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that felony arrest rates of youth and young adults (19-24) dropped 42 percent from 2010 to 2015. Plus, these massive downward trends in California’s juvenile violent felony arrest rates are expected to continue through 2020.

While researchers are unsure why youth arrest rates have dropped so dramatically, it is clear by the parallel decreases in youth imprisonment that incarceration is not the reason. As the national juvenile arrest rates have fallen in recent decades, so too has incarceration of youth in the United States.

The 40-plus percent decrease in California’s youth arrest rate occurred when the number of youth in correctional facilities plunged 96 percent, from 1996 to 2015. The District of Columbia and 44 states saw decreases in youth incarceration from 1997 to 2010, with almost 20 states, including California and New York, seeing 40-plus percent decreases in youth incarceration.

These trends are being reflected in the adult criminal justice system too. A study from The Pew Charitable Trusts found that from 2008 to 2013, most states reduced incarceration rates and experienced decreases in crime.

Data and research reports have shown us that mass incarceration is not causing the decrease in crime, but in fact yielding diminishing returns. An abundance of research has shown that incarceration has detrimental effects on the more than 90 percent of young people in the juvenile justice system who have experienced trauma or struggle with mental health problems.

Rather than continuing to heavily invest in a system that has been proven not only ineffective crime reduction strategy, but that also repeatedly subjects youth to neglect, maltreatment and outright abuse, the nation and its states must invest in local alternatives to incarceration, community-based services and preventative measures.

Some states have already begun this effort. Recently, California (Proposition 47) and Oklahoma (State Questions 780, 781) enacted initiatives that reduced minor drug possession and petty theft offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, thus reducing sentences and state incarceration, and allowing the states to reinvest savings into substance use treatment and mental health care.

This reinvestment, will address the cause of problematic behavior rather than punishing public health emergencies.

New York City also recently implemented a measure in 2012 (“Close to Home”) to reduce incarceration of youth in distant, secure facilities upstate in favor of less restrictive, smaller facilities closer to young people’s families and communities. While recent declines in overall out-of-home placements may be attributed to continuing decreases in youth crime rather than the new program, Close to Home adheres to juvenile justice best practices, which find that small, nonsecure facilities close to a youth’s community allow for increased therapeutic success, rehabilitation and prosocial development.

Positive trends in youth crime and incarceration have mirrored improvements measured for other key indicators, including health, income, and education.

From 2008 to 2013, the number of high school students who did not graduate on time decreased by 28 percent; and from 2008 to 2014, the share of children without health insurance decreased by 40 percent, teen and child death rates dropped about 17 percent and teen birth rates decreased by 40 percent.

These positive youth trends, combined with the plummeting arrest rates and decreased need for incarceration, have established that juvenile justice systems across the country have an opportunity to change. Spending more than $7 million dollars per day to incarcerate youth in residential facilities to the detriment of youth well being and overall public safety should be a mistake of the past.

Instead, state and local systems must reinvest in greater access to health care, education, mental health and substance addiction treatment for youth at the community level. Decades of youth incarceration have shown us that imprisonment is not a solution to the obstacles faced by youth; now we have the opportunity to try something new.