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In DC, Residents Returning Home from Prison Make Up One-Third of City’s Individuals Experiencing Homelessness; Incarceration Cited as the Cause

New Report from DC Fiscal Policy Institute Calls for Strengthened Housing, Services for Homeless Residents, along with Bold Changes to the Justice Systems

WASHINGTON, DC—A new study has found that DC’s returning citizens—those recently released from incarceration—make up one-third of the city’s individuals experiencing homelessness. The research revealed that many returning citizens cite their incarceration as the reason for their homelessness.

The report, entitled “Coming Home to Homelessness: Policy Solutions for Returning Citizens,” urges District leaders to recognize how difficult it is for returning citizens to transition home, and recommends that they strengthen housing, homeless services, release planning, and behavioral health services within the city, as well as take over the justice system.

“Returning citizens typically have low incomes and face the same housing challenges as other District residents with low incomes, but they also face unique challenges,” said Kate Coventry, Senior Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. “These include higher rates of mental illness, housing discrimination, and a lack of options for employment, and become additional barriers to finding stable housing while putting them at higher risk of becoming homeless.”

Coventry developed the report based on analyses from focus groups conducted in late 2018 and early 2019. Focus group participants were invited by various nonprofit organizations who were providing them with assistance following their release.

“We recognized that there was a huge need for this work,” Coventry said. “This report lays out the steps to help returning citizens avoid homelessness whenever possible and to quickly exit homelessness if they experience it.”

Coventry’s recommendations include:

  • housing evaluations for returning citizens three months before they’re released;
  • assistance for family and friends willing to host their loved ones who are returning from incarceration; and
  • creating medium-term housing options.

The report reminds readers that first years following incarceration are especially important because the risk of recidivism is highest in this period. Following the release of this report, DCFPI plans to continue to work with partners in an effort to prevent returning citizens from ever facing homelessness to begin with.


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