August 10, 2010

Ex-Cons often become Homeless

CANADA - Canada's largest and wealthiest city isn't immune to homelessness and crime. If anything statistics have shown the two go hand in hand.

When an inmate is released from prison in Toronto they're given a TTC token and little else. If they're lucky they might still have an apartment to go back to, paid for by welfare. If not then they will try to couch surf while they look for work... and if that fails they go to the homeless shelters.

Often these ex-cons end up in situations which led to their desperate situation and past crimes in the first place. According to a report and statistics from the John Howard Society of Toronto (and funded by the Canadian government) there are hundreds of inmates, mostly men, every year who face the same circumstances.

One in five inmates is homeless when they go to prison.

One in three inmates is homeless when they leave prison.

One in 10 inmates admitted they don't know where they would go upon release.

The report interviewed 363 inmates who are less than a week away from being released and serving sentences of under 2 years (usually for petty theft).

Cost-benefit studies have shown it is cheaper to provide education, support and affordable housing instead of having to go through the process of incarcerating homeless ex-cons again and again. Otherwise the prison system just becomes a poorhouse for the desperate. They get worn down, they start to develop health issues, they become desperate and start doing petty crimes in an effort to find money and food.

There is almost no support for ex-cons who commit minor crimes, resulting in them often heading back to prison when they become desperate due to the inability to find paid work.

In comparison inmates serving in federal prison for crimes like murder, sexual assault and other more serious crimes get out of prison and have a huge support system waiting for them.

Worse, even short stays in jail can result in job loss and homelessness. The study determined stays as brief as 5 days are just as likely to result in someone being evicted due to missing their rent payment, losing their job (and then later being unable to pay for rent). The longer they stay the more likely they are to be jobless and homeless by the time they leave.

And we're talking pretty minor crimes here, like stealing a proverbial loaf of bread or something else with the intent to sell it and then buy groceries/pay for rent.

And not every homeless person is crazy or on drugs. Most of them spend a lot of their time avoiding the crack dealers because they know that is just going further downhill on a path that will ultimately lead to death. They still have hope of somehow finding work and a way out of their sad existence.

22.9% of inmates who had no fixed address before going to jail.

32.2% of inmates who said they had no home to return to.

12.4% who didn’t know where they would go.

43.3% of homeless ex-cons with serious health issues.

22.3% of homeless ex-cons who are 50 years old or older.

2 months is the average stay in prison for inmates.

Solution? Offer these ex-cons all a job building government-sponsored greenhouses and then tending tomatoes and other greenhouse plants. Its good honest work and something anyone can learn how to do. Organic produce is expensive in the supermarket and there's no shortage of demand. It doesn't have to be greenhouses either, there's many government initiatives that could be set up, funded and solve the combined issues of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and crime all in one stroke.

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