Accessing Housing for Those Who Have Been Involved in the Justice System

Accessing Housing for Those Who Have Been Involved in the Justice System

At Helping Hands, we welcome each person that comes through our doors. Often, this has meant welcoming friends who have been involved with the Justice System. We’ve heard from them how difficult it can be to access safe and adequate housing. We reached out to staff from John Howard Society of Hamilton, Burlington, and area to discuss the issues they see within the clients they support. Hailie Tozer who works at JHSHBA on the employment team and as a community service justice worker shares their thoughts and findings below: 

In April of 2023, Hamilton had 1615 people experiencing homelessness.1 Acquiring housing is an issue for many individuals across the city and even more so, for those involved in the justice system. There is a vicious cycle that exists with homelessness and incarceration. People experiencing homelessness are more likely to encounter police and the justice system. Incarceration or fines leads to severe disruptions in one’s life and often impacts an individual’s ability to sustain employment and housing. Police are likely to respond to people living outside, criminalizing homelessness, and issuing citations and arrests for public nuisance crimes like loitering, or public urination. People wouldn’t have to endure these types of charges if they had a place to call home.

Additionally, missed shifts or late rent payments due to incarceration jeopardizes housing. Sentences, no matter the length, can result in a loss of employment and upon release individuals have difficulty obtaining a new position post release as it causes gaps in resumes, and deficits in employable skills. The presence of a criminal record often leads to less job offers and interviews. Several Ontario landlords are also performing their own criminal record checks on potential tenants. So, even if a person who has previously been involved in the justice system secures employment, they may have difficulty securing housing due to the presence of record checks. Affordable housing limits individual’s options for accommodations and is now made the already narrow search even smaller due to the record check.  A person who enters the justice system faces even more barriers upon release, especially if a shorter sentence was served, community re-entry services are slim, and assistance, or sustainable housing, are not always readily available. In conclusion, people who are involved in the justice system face unique, complex realities and barriers when acquiring housing and thus leads to higher rates of homelessness. 

The John Howard Society of Hamilton, Burlington and Area provides programs and services that help people affected by the justice system develop key life skills, navigate issues of criminal justice, and build productive futures after incarceration. 

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This post is a part of our Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week campaign! We have a goal to raise $5,000 by Giving Tuesday on November 28th. Be sure to make a donation with the form below to help us continue serving our friends that are facing hunger and homelessness in Hamilton.

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