HOUSING & PERSONAL REENTRY PLANS
This month we’ll begin two key pieces of reentry planning—that is, conversations with your returning partner.
First, we’ll reintroduce our Stones & Layers model for building a holistic, personalized reentry plan with our friend—together.
Second, we’ll focus this month on the first issue under the “Stones” list: housing.
1. BUILDING A REENTRY PLAN—TOGETHER
If you came to our Kickoff Orientation, you know how we at Underground Ministries frame both the spiritual mystery and social-work mechanics of prison reentry within the story of Lazarus’ resurrection. This keeps a lot of potentially confusing ideas from becoming overwhelming. It keeps our focus on a larger miracle of resurrection that we can’t force. It reminds us a mystery is happening in the darkness between God’s friend and God, and that we are invited to draw close and join the miracle.
It also helps gather all the reentry barriers like housing, courts, driver’s license, appointments, and more under one simple image: these are the heavy, systematic stones to roll away. They keep folks stuck in the underground cycle.
So this is a tool we at Underground Ministries have been refining for the last several years, to keep track of the details of each individual we accompany, while not losing the larger story. And remembering that their desires and sense of call and vision is what drives them forward. We just help roll away these stones, embody Jesus’ embrace as they emerge, and together unravel the layers we all have that cover (and bind) our true selves.
Please print this (two-sided), mail one to him or her to fill out and send back, and build on it as a team—on a fresh copy if you like—as you learn more with your releasing friend.
It’s your template for building a personalized, holistic reentry plan.
This month we’ll take a deep dive on the first Stone: housing.
When facing release from prison, the most basic question is: Where am I going? Where am I gonna live?
Even more pressing is that DOC requires an approved release address roughly three months before their ERD (expected release date). You literally can’t get out of prison without an approved release address. Many folks facing release just want an address to submit so they can get out, with little intention of actually living there.
We are about much more than finding an address. OPOP applicants should be in a different frame of mind: finding the right housing that supports their healthy living and gives them the best chance at living into their best life.
Ask your friend what their initial ideas are. Ask what kind of environment they think will need to start the life they seek. Ask if you as a team can help think through their options with them, and help research and connect them with good local options.
Here are the most common options, and how you as a team can help your person think through, contact, and secure one or two good housing situations.
Live With Family - This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many folks leaving prison don’t have good relationship with family members. Or starting a new, sober life often means making a break from the very environments that helped put them in prison. Many of these family members’ addresses wouldn’t even be approved by a DOC house inspection (felons, firearms, known drug activity, etc). Or there’s a boyfriend/girlfriend opening their home, but your person feels conflicted about whether that’s really the best way to start their new life. You’re not their parent or boss, but ask good questions as good friends would.
Maybe a family situation is just right. You can help communicate with the family, if nearby, and build relationship with them, too! Ask if it’s ok to visit the home/family. Invite them to one of your OPOP team meetings, and feel embraced and supported as well.
Oxford Houses - These resident-run, clean-and-sober group houses are in most counties. There’s no program, no sign out front. The only conditions are a strong commitment to addiction recovery and paying rent (usually around $4-500/mo). There are random UA’s (urine analyses), required 2 Twelve Step meetings a week, and one house meeting.
But there are wait lists, and applying from prison is tricky. If your person wants it, it’s a good idea to help locate local Oxford Houses, get their applications, mail them to your person, and better facilitate their “reentry application” to get on a few wait lists months before release.
Recovery Home - Many communities have some local residential recovery programs. These are nonprofit programs, with a stronger recovery (and often faith) focus. Your person may be turned off by a home with a manager and structured program, or feel that’s exactly what they’re looking for to grow and have daily support to thrive.
Start asking around: Who knows of good recovery homes, good housing programs or transitional housing? Where would you start? Who do you know who could get your team started? It’s a great chance to get to know your community more, learn about good (and some not so good) work happening close to you. Follow good word of mouth, and look out for fundamentalist outfits that have a hyper controlling feel, with poor facilities and require mouthing pieties to keep your housing. Delegate one person on the team to learn more, and maybe be an intermediary between your person and the program—for photos, applications, advocacy to get taken seriously as a candidate.
Why Not Have the OPOP Team/Church Offer A Place to Live?
It’s a good question.
When we first started our OPOP experiments a few years ago, our hope and assumption was that every church has—like a used car, an employment connection in the congreation—someone with a room or cottage or downstairs apartment or something to rent. What better way to serve someone coming home from prison?
We’ve found that there’s just too much power in being someone’s landlord. It puts you in a bind: you need to enforce basic standards of behavior, which they might fail at. And when they may relapse on an old addiction, or fail to pay rent, you are not the ones they can come to for mercy and accompaniment, but you’re the landlord/enforcer they need to avoid. Months of deep relationship building is out the window.
So our OPOP policy is NO to offering housing directly with your church or OPOP team members.
OK, WHO PAYS EARLY RENT?
There’s a few ways to get started.
DOC VOUCHERS - Sometimes folks can get a voucher where DOC pays the first three months rent at a pre-qualified release housing location, up to $500/mo. These are tricky to get, they’re running out, but ask your person about if that’s what they’re aiming for, and where.
Often, the voucher only comes through the week of their release, but the Oxford House or elsewhere needs a First Month Rent or downpayment beforehand. This is a major reentry obstacle.
. . . and a great use of your community’s ROLL AWAY THE STONE FUND. If it’s good housing, your person is otherwise accepted, and especially if there’s voucher money coming soon, you should feel good as a team helping close that gap and paying the first month’s rent.
Paying the first 1-2 months’ rent at another housing option (other than Oxford) is a normal and good use of your ROLL AWAY THE STONE FUND. If your person seems to be doing all in their power to work with your team and their goals.
Which brings us to a topic we’ll cover separately, soon:
3. A JOB?
We will say for now, simply, that we at Underground Ministries strongly encourage returning men and women to NOT rush into full time employment right away (as many voices in society and prison yell at them to do). The mounting pressures, appointments, relationships, financial obstacles, all cause them immense anxiety and they want to speed up, and find themselves racing (internally, and physically, around town) to deal with the stress, and relapse within a week or two.
We are here to help hold them, walk with them, take the immediate financial pressures off (with rent, court debt, clothes, a phone, etc), so they can put their lives together the first month.
We strongly encourage you to line up some side jobs ahead of time—piecemeal work, a day or two a week, under the table—to get some small dignified income with good people you know. Then look for part time jobs.
It’s a full time job getting your driver’s license, going to evaluations, appointments, working on your priorities, mental health, exercise, spending time with your kids, reading, resting, processing emotions, spending time with your OPOP team through much of this. Keep reminding your friend this, in weeks leading up.
Meanwhile, be talking to potential employers you know who would hire your person part-to-full time when they are ready, and have their driver’s license.
(More on employment in an upcoming monthly module.)
Who will print and mail a copy of the Stones and Layers to your person?
Look over the Stones and Layers document, a copy for each team member. What can you pencil in, as a group, with what you’ve already learned about your person’s dreams, goals, barriers, and binding layers? Use a pencil, as what we learn is always evolving in these categories. Make one copy your group’s shared copy to build on in months to come.
What do you already know about your person’s housing ideas? Make that the topic of conversation in letters and calls this month. Let their desires lead. Ask questions.
Who can look into local Oxford Houses, recovery homes, or make contact with the desired family offering a local address?
Can you take photos, learn more info, mail that to your incarcerated friend and be a collaborative support for their decision?
Pray about wisdom in identifying and connecting with the best housing option with your friend. Don’t rush or assume the first idea is what will happen. Keep a few doors open.
Feel free to contact email@example.com with questions when you get to this point, have some options identified, and want some experienced input. We are here to support you in this.