Overcoming Housing Barriers After Incarceration
Page updated Sep 26, 2023
(From Released from jail, to homeless, to a job and now housed!)
By Ricky G.
Stupid me. I thought I was all set with my plan once I was released from jail. I would go to the Probation Office and get a transfer and get on the next bus to New York City.
I would get to New York City and go directly to the Doe Fund. They provide employment and housing for those just released from jail. I would rather go there than be a burden to my family.
So, on the day that I was released from jail, I reported to the Probation Office only to be informed that my request for a transfer had been denied.
Nowhere else to go and nowhere to turn I had to quickly come up with a PLAN B. Prior to my release, I did the research and had put together a plan that included a list of shelters and a rating system for staff, cleanliness and safety procedures. Most shelters house as many as 500 men. The Shattuck houses just 120 men. I finally found a place to rest my head while I get the rest of my shit together.
I arrived at the Shattuck just in time for dinner. Dinner was a hospital type meal with plenty of extras. After dinner, I received fresh linen, hygiene products and was pointed in the direction of the nearest clean bed. I later learned that the place is cleaned and sanitized on a daily basis.
Breakfast at the shelter was French toast and bacon. But after breakfast, we had only an hour to get ourselves together and leave the shelter for the day. The shelter is closed from 8am until 4pm. So, we have to figure out what to do to keep busy and out of trouble for the bulk of the day until we are allowed to return to the shelter.
A must have item for a homeless person is a backpack. I didn’t have one, but I knew how to get one. I called a local church, spoke to the pastor and asked him if he had any backpacks at his church’s lost & found. He asked me to come in the next day and he would take care of me. I lucked out! When I got to the church, the pastor gave me a backpack and an envelope with $25. I took the backpack, but I gave back the envelope full of money. I might be homeless, but I still had my pride. I could never take money from the church! We reached a compromise where he would take back the envelope but offered me a one-week train pass. We went from his office to the kitchen where he made me a nice lunch. And that was the beginning of our friendship.
Another friend was nice enough to invite me to his barbershop in downtown Boston. This shop was located in the heart of the city. (A few blocks from my lawyer’s office, a few blocks to my court mandated counseling and another few blocks from the Probation Office). He gave me a tour of the shop and showed me where I can store my gear. A few minutes later, he handed me a key to the barbershop and to his office. (That was the same guy who picked me up when I was released from jail, no questions asked!)
With only the clothes on my back, he offered to take me to Walmart and help me get some clothes, hygiene products and under wears, etc. He spent more than $200 on me that day. (When I got my first paycheck a few months later and offered to pay back that money, he simply refused.)
Another must for a homeless person is a train pass. Especially since all Boston shelters are closed for maintenance from 8am to 4pm. So, we have to walk from one end of Boston to the other in order to kill time. Boston is small, so that’s no problem but when it’s cold or snowing, one has to resort to public transportation. Only one problem, no money and no train pass. But I quickly learned the “homeless hustle”. (Look for someone exiting the system and ask them to swipe a ride for you.) Or ask the Transit Ambassador for a free ride. Thank God Steve, Mike (Boston Project Rebound) came to the rescue with many Charlie Cards (and other useful items!).
The shelter provides a full breakfast and a filling dinner. But we are on our own for lunch. So, on the first day of wandering around and trying to kill time, I was getting hungry. I noticed a fast food place and quickly realized that I had no money. So, I stood by the doorway and pan handled for a meal. After an hour and no luck, a lady was nice enough to offer a bag full of fries, burgers and a beverage. Thank God for the kindness of strangers. But it was embarrassing enough to keep me from doing that on a regular basis.
St. Francis House is a day program. They offer a place to hang from 8:30am until 2:30pm. They offer breakfast, lunch, case management, clothing and mail call service. I would have my lunch there each day until the case manager helped me get food stamps. He also helped me get a reduced rate, senior train pass (Charlie Card) as well.
A few weeks into wandering the streets, I met Officer Artie. Officer Artie is the liaison between the Boston Police Department and the homeless shelter. Officer Artie invited me to an upcoming RESOURCE FAIR. And at that fair, Officer Artie arranged for me to get a brand-new pair of sneakers, underwear, and a one-week train pass as well. Officer Artie is a sweet heart and the REAL DEAL!
Several months passed and Fall quickly turned to Winter. I had a hoodie, but I didn’t have a winter coat. I met a case manager who worked for the Boston Rescue Mission. She was able to get me several sweatshirts and a winter coat. Again, thank God for the kindness of strangers!
I now have a coat, but I don’t have a hat, scarf, and gloves. I am much too proud to ask my family for such things. And then I met Jeff. Jeff is an older gentleman who lost his son to a drug a few years back. His son was living in the streets when he died. Jeff shows up at the shelter with his Toyota Prius once a week. He opens his trunk and a line quickly forms. Jeff hands out hats, gloves, scarfs and thermo socks. I pray for people like Jeff for his continued generosity.
In order to get a locker at the shelter, one has to earn it. One month of steady attendance and not causing any kind of trouble will quickly earn one a locker. Carrying a backpack all over the city quickly builds muscles and earns one a sore back as well. So, I was grateful to earn a locker in less than a month. Another lesson is learning what to keep and what to give away. There is only so much room in that locker. The locker is the size of a dresser draw and can only fit three changes of clothes. So, I don’t accept anything that I can’t fit into my locker or my backpack.
My friend at the barbershop realized that I needed a place to store my extra stuff. He then offered me a bottom drawer of the rather large filing cabinet. Enough to store my personal papers and my extra clothes. That cabinet had a lock and he offered me the only other key. My stuff was safe and secured but I was still paranoid about my personal papers.
Things seem to be going ok. At least I thought so. Then a series of panic attacks, uncertainties, paranoia, anxiety and depression led me to several emergency room visits. Then I was assigned to a very young but experienced therapist. I meet with him on a regular basis and have not missed a session since. And I haven’t had a panic attack since.
It’s Christmas Eve. I hate the holidays. Despite being surrounded by a large group of men, I am still lonely and homesick. There is talk around the shelter of a man who hands out $100 bills to the panhandling homeless in the Downtown area. I quickly make my way to Downtown Crossing in the hopes of getting that $100 bill. I found my way to the Macy’s Downtown location. It looks like a good spot as any. I take a coffee cup and stand by the store’s main entrance. I shake the change inside the cup for an hour. I made $7. I’m so embarrassed, I leave and never return.
A group of women from the local Baptist church provides holiday meals for the men at the shelter. They cook the meal at their church and bring it over to the shelter. Fried chicken, turkey, ham, homemade mash potatoes, stuffing, rice, etc. I heard that this group of women provided holiday meals for the men at the shelter for many years.
A group of parishioners from the local Catholic Church stop by once a week to provide cookies, cakes, ice cream and other goodies for the men at the shelter. I think I gained 10 pounds
Covid-19 hits. The shelter is taking steps to keep us safe. Social distance is a problem. The Suffolk University Dorms becomes available. Fifty of the best-behaved shelter guests are invited to move. I made the cut. Going from 120 “roommates” to just one “dormmate!”. My friend offered me a “behind the scenes” job at the barbershop during the pandemic. I owe this man everything and would work for free. But instead we reached a compromise that would include him paying for my train pass, cell phone, bike membership and some pocket change.
I also keep myself busy by bike riding five miles, several days a week. The Blue Bike Rental company offers a special rate for seniors on a fixed income ($5 per month). My friend pays for the membership for me.
And then college students get ready to move back into the dorms. The Best Western Hotel on Boston’s Methadone Mile becomes available. Twenty-five of the best dorm guests are invited to move into the hotel. I am placed in a suite with only one other person. We are immediately notified that accommodations are temporary and that we should make other arrangements by January 2021. The assistant director offers me a job. He asked me to take over the laundry room. I work a part-time four hour a day, five days a week at minimum wage.
That job led to another full time job. That full time job leads to permanent housing in a Pine Street apartment in Allston, Ma.
At first, I was against writing this journal that my therapist asked me to put together. But after re-reading the journey steps that I’ve taken so far, it helped me to learn to be grateful for every little thing that comes my way. For each person who has blessed me through their generosity. And for the struggles that has helped me look at life through a clearer pair of glasses (so to speak!).
Finding housing for felons in Massachusetts is no easy task and we want to assure you that we understand your struggle. Every month we have dozens of people ask our organization for this information and as much as we wish we had a list of felon friendly apartments in Massachusetts, this information is too difficult to gather as we don’t have enough staff on hand to handle the task.With that being said, we’ve done the next best thing. Below is a list of organizations and resources in Massachusetts that will help you in your pursuit of felon friendly housing.
The place to start your housing and jobs search is through the reentry listings for Massachusetts that have been compiled by the JobsForFelonsHub.com site. Referring to these programs will enable you to go forward with greater success and confidence. Refer to the list often while you are transitioning back into the mainstream.
If you are about to be released from prison, then you will want to take note of the Department of Correction’s reentry offerings. The Reentry Services Division of the DOC can coordinate “in-reach” programs for felons that are preparing for prison release. The presentations, which are hosted at all DOC facilities, feature outside speakers who inform felons about the broad array of reentry services that are available to them.
Speakers typically represent the DOC’s Reentry Services Division as well as comprise institutional housing search specialists, employment readiness workshop professionals and transitional housing program specialists. Speakers may also represent such agencies as the Division of Career Services or MassHealth. If you have not yet been released from prison, these types of agencies can help you realize success once you start reintegrating yourself into the mainstream. Don’t bypass these opportunities as they offer you felon-friendly ways to get back on track monetarily and residentially.
That is why it is important to depend on the reentry listings featured for Massachusetts that have been compiled by the JobsForFelonsHub.com site. This basic list will help you locate programs and resources that will make your readjustment into society both positive and meaningful.
Other Massachusetts Housing Resources
Besides referring to the above information, you can also search for housing through such venues as Craigslist and the Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD. The HUD and local housing authorities in Massachusetts and other states help felons locate apartments that are both affordable and meet with their basic residential requirements.
HUD refers to a felon’s AMI or annual median income in order to source apartments that are move-in ready. Try to apply to your local housing authority or HUD office as soon as your prison release to convey your interest in obtaining a residence. While some offices may offer apartments that can be moved into right way, some housing authorities may require that you add your name to a waiting list. You can add your name to the list while living in transitional housing in the interim.
Don’t Apply to Large Massachusetts Property Management Companies
Don’t waste your time by applying to large Massachusetts property management companies. Multiplex communities normally do not accept tenants with a criminal background. Stick to looking on Craigslist, working with HUD or your local housing authority, and applying to programs that assist felons in reentry.
Review Your Own Criminal Record
Before you begin a diligent housing search, take some time and run a criminal history check on yourself. That way you can better prepare yourself for negotiating a lease and applying for transitional housing. It takes a couple minutes to run the search and you are only charged a minimal fee. Use your record as a resource to better communicate with a potential property manager or landlord. You can start the process now by following this link.
Why Felons Are Discriminated Against When They Apply for Housing
If you feel that being turned down for an apartment rental is unfair because of your record, you are not alone. Felons are regularly turned down for rental housing in large apartment communities in Massachusetts and all the other states in the US. That is because felons are not considered part of a protected class.
According to the Fair Housing Administration, individuals who apply for housing that are turned down because of their national origin, sex, ethnicity, race, religion, family status or disability, can sue a property manager if he or she turns them down for housing for any of these reasons. However, a landlord is in their right to turn down a felon if he or she believes the applicant’s criminal history might pose a threat to his or her community.
Property managers in Massachusetts and all the other US states can also discriminate against applicants who have past evictions or have not paid their rent. When discrimination is based on a business transaction and fact, then it is never considered illegal and therefore is allowable by law.
How Illegal Discrimination is Handled
Legal discrimination becomes illegal when a property manager denies a housing applicant a rental based on their own biases. Therefore, any property manager who turns an applicant away because they have a personal prejudice towards the applicant’s ethnicity, family status, race, religion, national origin, disability or sex can be sued for illegal discrimination. When discrimination is mentioned then, you cannot assume it is automatically illegal. You have to look at the basis for the practice.
One case in point – A felon who applies for a rental who was charged with the illegal use of drugs because of a mental or physical disability actually is in their right to rent the unit. That is because their charge stemmed from a disability – which is categorized as a protected class under the law.
Basically, though, if you are a felon, expect to regularly be turned down by large apartment communities, especially if your charge is recent or you were convicted of a violent crime. Also, if you are a sex offender or served time for the manufacture of methamphetamine, you generally cannot apply to apartment complexes or to HUD agencies or local housing authorities. Read more about illegal discrimination by referring to NOLO online.
The Fair Housing Act as It Applies US Felons
Generally, discrimination is illegal when a property manager or landlord makes a rental decision, based on an applicant’s national origin, family status, sex, ethnicity, religion, race or disability. Most felons are denied housing based on their felon history alone. If the reason for the felony, however, is based on a protected classification, such as a disability, then the felon is in their legal right to rent an apartment.
While property managers can reject a felon’s housing application, based on the applicant’s record, they also must make sure their decision is one that is based purely on fact. Any decision that extends to a protected class, such as ethnicity, sex, family status, national origin, disability or religion, can be cause for a lawsuit against the landlord.
For example, if a landlord rents an apartment to a felon who is from the US but does not rent a unit to a felon from another country, he or she could get in trouble for arbitrary discrimination. The choice to rent or not to rent a residence must be based, again, on fact alone, not on the property owner’s personal preferences. Landlords, by law, are required to follow the regulations and statutes set up by the Fair Housing Administration. You can read more about arbitrary discrimination by following this link.
In Massachusetts, the local housing agency to see is MassHousing. Created in 1966, MassHousing is a quasi-public and independent agency that provides financing for affordable housing in the state of Massachusetts. The agency sells bonds and lends the proceeds to lower income and moderate income home buyers. The agency does not use tax money to sustain operations. However, it does administer programs that are publicly funded on behalf of the state. Since it began, the agency has supplied over $18.5 billion for people in need of affordable housing.
MassHousing also offers affordable rentals that are financed by the agency. Access the online form and inquire about housing by following this link.
Local housing authorities work in collaboration with HUD to provide housing for low-income renters. The rental amount is either discounted or, in some situations, is free. The rental amount is based on an area’s annual median income or AMI. Therefore, if your means of support or annual salary falls well below the AMI for your area, you can receive a significant discount on your rent or obtain a place to live for free.
Working with an agency entails scheduling an appointment at your earliest convenience. As stated, you may need to be placed on a waiting list if apartments are not currently available. The sooner you make contact, the sooner you will be able to obtain an apartment or house. If your charge keeps you from contacting HUD, a housing authority or similar agency, speak with the DOC to obtain housing information. Also, reference the reentry listings that have been compiled for Massachusetts by the JobsForFelonsHub.com site.
Once more, Craigslist is an excellent resource for obtaining a rental home. Usually, landlords are entrepreneurs or small real estate investors. Therefore, they may not even run a background check. Even if they do run a criminal history check, they are easier to communicate with than property managers at larger communities.
To review the Craigslist Massachusetts postings for housing, you will need to click on this link. Next, select the city or town where you would like to live. Click on the “housing” section at the top of the Craigslist page to obtain the apartment and house leasing information. To streamline your efforts, add the rental range.
The best way to begin any housing search is to review the reentry listings for Massachusetts that have been compiled by the JobsForFelonsHub.com site. You can also obtain transitional housing options through these programs while you are looking for a permanent place to stay.
You can also inquire about housing leads by talking to your local pastor or contacting organizations that are faith-based. You might also think about working as a volunteer for a community-based organization. You can obtain leads for jobs and rentals through this venue as well.
Families and friends can also give you job and housing references. Just don’t ask the people who are close to you to lease an apartment on your behalf. If a landlord finds out that you are living as a “tenant” in an apartment but your name is not on the lease, you can get evicted or sued.
Making Your Transition Work
While some felons look at transitioning from prison life to be a stressful time, others use it as an opportunity to better themselves and look forward to the future. Start the house search process then by looking your best. Stop at the local thrift store to pick out a professional wardrobe. Next, schedule several appointments to look at house rentals or apartments. If you are dressed professionally, it will make it easier to communicate in a business-like manner as well.
Stick to A Routine
Once you obtain a rental, make sure you stick to a normal schedule. That means going to work each day or planning a day looking for jobs in the mainstream. If you need more education to obtain a certain job, inquire about the training. Refer to reentry listings and ask family and friends to assist you in your job search or educational activities. This is a time in your life when you can use your second chance to make a new and more productive life for yourself.