*Last name has been removed to protect privacy
After a person leaves prison, they face a new set of challenges. Are they able to contact their family? Can they find a job? How are they going to eat?
And perhaps most urgently: Where will they sleep that night?
Many formerly incarcerated individuals don’t have a support network to turn to, which can make finding a place to live post-release an insurmountable task. Affordable housing can be costly and difficult to obtain, and landlords frequently won’t rent to formerly incarcerated individuals. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, former inmates are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.
“For people getting out of prison, the penalty hasn’t ended and re-entry is its own obstacle course that everybody has to navigate,” Alex Busansky, a former prosecutor and president of Impact Justice, a nonprofit that works in justice reform, told NPR. “And housing is essential to being able to get through that obstacle course. If you don’t have a place to sleep, to shower, to keep your things, it’s very difficult to think about doing anything else.”
Enter the Homecoming Project: an Airbnb-like program for former inmates in Alameda County, California.
Impact Justice launched the Homecoming Project pilot in 2018. This program pairs people recently released from long-term incarceration with homeowners who have bedrooms to spare.
After a lengthy screening process for both the formerly incarcerated and their hosts, the Homecoming Project sets up potential roommates. By pairing like-minded people (think cat vs. dog lovers, night owl vs. early bird, clean vs. messy), the hope is to create a positive living situation with the potential for friendship. Before moving in together, the pair meets to discuss rules, preferences and if it feels like a compatible match or no. If yes, the host receives a subsidy of $25 a day and the former inmate gets a room for up to six months.
While the project is still in its pilot phase, as of this past April, 10 former inmates have been matched with hosts, and program officials hope to double that figure by the end of this year. The first former inmate has successfully left his home and moved to his own place.
For DeLora*, she gained more than just a place to rest with the Homecoming Project.
After serving eight years for conspiracy to distribute heroin, the 32-year-old had no job or stable shelter. Then she found the Homecoming Project and was welcomed into Sabina Crocette’s home.
“I just saw her as a dynamic young woman who could come back into the community and be a great resource to others,” Crocette told KPIX. “You have to recognize people’s humanity. People are not the thing that they have done. That is not who they are.”
Since arriving in Crocette’s home, DeLora has been mentored by Crocette, and in return, DeLora has mentored Crocette’s daughter.
“We didn’t know that the hosts were going to be serving — by proxy — as a role model, showing them what it’s like to live in the community,” Homecoming Project coordinator Terah Lawyer told KPIX.
Just as Airbnb has expanded across the globe, leaders at Impact Justice hope to create the same ripple effect in this compassionate twist on the sharing economy.
“[The Homecoming Project] says you’re a person and we’re going to treat you like a person and give you the footholds and the scaffolding to be able to come back home and to be a full member of society just like anybody else,” Busansky said.
If you live in Alameda County and have a room to offer or are in need of a place to stay, visit the Homecoming Project.