Criminal Justice Involvement and Homelessness

Unfortunately for too many, the experience of homelessness involves police encounters, lockups, courts, or jail and prison cells as much as it does shelter beds. Some people are caught in a revolving door between the streets or shelters and jails, not to mention other institutional settings. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, national data shows that the number of Americans caught in this cycle may number in the tens of thousands. Of the 11 million people detained or incarcerated in jails every year nationally, as many as 15% report having been homeless. Roughly 48,000 people entering shelters every year are coming nearly directly from prisons or jails.

Homelessness to Prison Cycle

This issue is not foreign to the Connecticut homelessness system. A Yale Law School study claims that in Connecticut, homelessness is criminalized and that many experiencing homelessness are forced into breaking the law. The study explains that laws that restrict behaviors in which people experiencing homelessness must engage to survive, as well as the practices used to enforce these laws, constitute what the report refers to as “making homelessness a crime” or “the criminalization of homelessness.” For many who are not homeless prior to entering the criminal justice system, many will enter homelessness following release from jail or prison. Many have no place to go upon release. They lack resources due to losing touch with family or friends, as a result of long-term incarceration, and due to burning all of their bridges. Many are denied services and resources due to their criminal record. Some who have places to live face policies or practices, including restrictions on access to subsidized housing, that either inadvertently or intentionally eliminate these options.

Connecticut Efforts

Fortunately, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness recognizes this issue and has begun to work on addressing many of the obstacles to housing people involved in the criminal justice system face in addition to working with Court Support Services on shelter diversion and understanding coordinated access. Also, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness co-leads the Criminal Justice Task Force, a committee that is committed to addressing homelessness among those involved in the criminal justice system. Not only will streamlining housing resources to this population address homelessness among some of our most vulnerable people, but it will also reduce recidivism, contributing to overall safer communities.

Thanks to generous support from the Tow Foundation, CCEH has been able to partner with the state Office of Policy and Management, Department of Correction, and Court Support Services Division to perform a data match which has showcased that ex-offenders represent a large proportion of the shelter population. Based on this data, CCEH has worked with the Office of The CT Office of Policy Management, the Department of Housing, United Way 2-1-1, and the Department of Correction to launch a new program to coordinate housing solutions for individuals re-entering the community from incarceration.  An initial grant of $148,500 will provide flexible funds to assist re-entry clients, who would otherwise be discharging to homelessness in identifying and securing alternative housing solutions. The CT Coalition to End Homelessness will be administering these funds, which can be used for security deposits, rental assistance, bus passes, utility deposits, and other related essentials in order to prevent homelessness prior to discharge. At the same time, key homeless service providers across the state have expanded their capacity to assist these clients prior to discharge; working with DOC, CCEH, United Way 2-1-1, and CSSD to coordinate solutions and reduce inflows into homelessness, and the Transitions Clinic at Yale will offer important medical and mental health support coordination for individuals re-entering the community.

Resources for Department of Corrections

In 2020, CCEH partnered with the Department of Correction, Court Support Services Division, regional providers from Connecticut’s seven Coordinated Access Networks, and other key partners working with the re-entry population to launch the Department of Correction (DOC) Re-entry Housing Assistance program. Through this program, DOC discharge and re-entry planning staff work with clients prior to discharge to identify housing options for clients who they identify as at-risk of becoming homeless. Click here to learn more about the DOC Re-Entry Housing Assistance Program, which includes resources DOC staff can access when working with clients facing homelessness at discharge.

How you can get involved

This is a critical time for people re-entering society, and we need help securing flexible funds to help clients leaving the criminal justice system to start out on the right foot. If you would like to donate to CCEH’s Second Chance emergency fund, please contact Madeline Ravich at



National Organizations