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The jail-to-homelessness pathway is frequently cited as a concerning systemic cause of homelessness. Individuals frequently exit from incarceration to homelessness if released with no fixed address. Unfortunately, this leads to both cycles of re-incarceration as well as cycles of chronic homelessness. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this is of particular concern as the incarcerated population, including over-representation of Indigenous and racialized persons, is at particular risk of illness both during and post-incarceration. Urgent services are needed to create better pathways into housing for those leaving incarceration both now, during the pandemic, and going forward, through and beyond pandemic recovery.
In this context, the John Howard Society of London and District (JHS) proposed a housing support model for funding by the United Way Elgin Middlesex. This is aimed as supporting three overlapping vulnerable populations including formerly incarcerated individuals, individuals experiencing homelessness, and individuals living with mental illness. Through the provision of transitional accommodation in a local hotel, JHS is supporting individuals aged 18-years and over who are newly released from prison to avoid homelessness in London. This includes on-site supports, system navigation, and ultimately rapid re-housing.
This work is particularly timely given how the pandemic is affecting local services. While those released from custody encounter barriers to successful integration at all times, the pandemic has particularly reduced access to health and social services as many close or limit in-person supports. This effects everything from basic needs support such as food security and income assistance, to apartment hunting and mental health care. Where the alternative to housing for those leaving incarceration to no-fixed-address is often emergency shelter, this support is also harder to obtain due to shelter de-intensification. Therefore, whereas this client population usually needs higher levels of support under normal circumstances, the pandemic has created further challenges to pathways into stability. The project is providing essential support to aid this vulnerable population impacted by the pandemic to ensure a safe and successful reintegration into the community.
Outcomes for participants in the program start from basic needs and move through to long-term outcomes related to the determinants of health. For example, participants are supported into mental health care, income access, housing stability, food security, social inclusion, and prevention of re-incarceration. The model of support is case management through individualized service plans that take into consideration unique needs.
The project was supported by an evaluation study following program participants to understand achievement of outcomes or barriers to outcomes. This report presents findings from that evaluation. The evaluation is led by Dr. Abe Oudshoorn of Western University and the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion (CRHESI). The evaluation explores the efficacy of supports provided for the purpose of addressing the complex health and social needs of those who are post-incarceration and have no-fixed-address. This evaluation shares both the voices of participants through their quotes as well as project data through numbers.