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Homelessness and housing insecurity among former prisoners

Homeless persons seek safe, secure housing

Cory Haywood & Maiyah Mayhan | OW Contributors | 7/20/2017, midnight
It’s not a secret. The rate of homelessness in Los Angeles surpasses nearly every major city in the country. If ...

It’s not a secret. The rate of homelessness in Los Angeles surpasses nearly every major city in the country.

If you need an example, visit Downtown and travel the grimy streets littered with dozens of poverty-stricken castaways. Military veterans account for a large share of those living in tents under freeways and on street corners throughout the city. However, in recent years, the sting of homelessness has unleashed its wrath on young African American males, particularly those with a criminal past.

In 2014, Huffington Post contributor Harriet McDonald wrote a compelling story about the perilous realities that await Black males who’ve been chewed up and spit out by the country’s justice system:

“When you make it out, you’ll be psychologically scarred. You’ll be broke. If your mother isn’t around or if she’s living in poverty, you’ll likely be homeless, too. And since you spent most of your adolescence watching your back instead of receiving an education, you never finished high school. There’s only one way for you to support yourself now: Selling more drugs. So the cycle starts, all over again. This ‘story’ isn’t fiction. It is the reality of the cycle of incarceration for countless young, poor, undereducated, Black men in the United States. And it is a national travesty.”

L.A. County has nation’s largest homeless population

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, Los Angeles County has the highest number of chronically homeless individuals in the nation. In addition, it has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless. Between 2014 and 2015, Los Angeles experienced a 55 percent increase in chronically homeless individuals—the largest increase in the nation.

The demographic trend in homelessness in Los Angeles is the unfortunate baseline for homelessness in both the state and nation, reports Black Voice News. According to the report, throughout the city and particularly in South Los Angeles and along Skid Row—“Black” is the face of homelessness. In Los Angeles, Blacks are only nine percent of the city’s population and yet account for 47 percent of the homeless population.

The United States has experienced dramatic increases in both incarceration rates and the population of poorly housed or homeless persons since the 1980s. These marginalized populations reportedly have strong overlaps, with many people being poor, minority, and from an urban area. While there is a clear relationship between homelessness, housing insecurity, and incarceration, the extent and nature of this relationship is not yet adequately understood.

The National Institutes of Health finds relatively low rates of outright homelessness among former prisoners, but very high rates of housing insecurity, much of which is linked to recidivism and absconding (from probation). Los Angeles appears to be a perfect storm of circumstances conspiring against Black males, with the end result being huge numbers forced to fend for themselves on the streets, staying in places like Downtown’s growing “tent city” locations.

Finding work is major concern

ThinkProgress, a political news blog, conducted interviews with members of the homeless population and found that a big part of the problem is that these persons are unable to find work, reports the Atlanta Black Star. An African-American homeless man who goes by the name of “Greedy D” told ThinkProgress that although he has a culinary arts degree and went through the Job Corps, he is unable to find work at the age of 30. A car accident, debt, lack of a support system and generally bad luck landed him on the streets, he said. Greedy said his race makes things much harder for him.