We can break the joblessness/homelessness cycle
During his 11 years working with Catholic Charities of Kansas City and St. Joseph, now Executive Director of Housing Development Jarrod Sanderson has seen one constant need across all programs areas. From child foster care to crisis-pregnancy support, from senior assistance to workforce development, one common challenge persists throughout every client group: housing insecurity. In this, part one of a series, Sanderson looks at the first of four critical factors that most often contribute to housing insecurity, and some of the steps Catholic Charities is taking to help restore stable housing hope.QJarrod, the statistics tell us that every year in America, about 625,000 people will walk out of prison gates and back into a community. More than 4.5 million people are either on probation or parole. Research has shown that only about four in 10 return to their original home community, housing stability for them is chronically low, and many former inmates end up in disadvantaged neighborhoods where poverty, unemployment and high crime rates are relatively more common. Surely that must qualify as a housing crisis? AWe believe so. If someone has a criminal offense in their history that shows up when a property manager or landlord runs a housing background check, quite often that’s all it takes for them to be denied housing—at least in the case of the vast majority of properties that exist in our traditional housing market. QSo, it’s really that cut-and-dried? A landlord sees a first conviction on their record, and immediately refuses to even consider them? How prevalent is that? ASome landlords are a little more flexible on the type of crime they will base a rejection upon—typically crimes against persons or drug-related crimes, for example. But in my experience, it’s almost across the board. The vast majority of the traditional housing-market properties simply won’t say yes to any crime on a background check. They simply feel the risk is too great. QTo be fair, can you blame them?
AProbably not. The vast majority of property managers are good people. But they are trying to run a business, and taking unnecessary risk is a great way to drive business away. So the job of that landlord or property manager is to mitigate their risk. Because they usually have limited resources to do so, the background check often becomes their only means to do so. In that sense, it’s justifiable. If you’ve got more applicants than open housing units, why wouldn’t you just not take the risk? It’s based on that old premise that still holds true: Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
QBut that’s where Catholic Charities can make a real difference, right?
AExactly. That’s why we exist. Past behavior may be a predictor, but it doesn’t have to be destiny. We stand in as an intervention to help ensure that past behavior turns into something that makes that person stronger. When a prior conviction has caused everthing in a person’s life to come off the rails, when a person can’t find housing because of a criminal background and then winds up facing homelessness or falling prey to the few predatory landlords who, unfortunately, exist, when lack of a home address makes it hard to find a job, which in turn makes it even harder to find housing, when all that misery has piled up, it is uniquely Catholic Charities who can step in and vouch for that person. It is we who can attest that he has removed himself from the past behavior that led to this path. It is we who can give her the opportunity to demonstrate true commitment to change. It may be our affirmation that becomes the sole deciding factor to improve a landlord’s comfort level enough to allow that rare second chance.
QWe suspect that’s not as simple as you make it sound.
That’s why Catholic Charities is always innovating our housing services, trying to stay ahead of the need.
AWell, one initiative I’m particularly excited about is our effort to begin to both own and manage our own housing properties, through the new program Neighborhoods of Hope.
Neighborhoods of Hope is a separate non-profit established by Catholic Charities. Its ultimate purpose is to become a housing-specific development arm of Catholic Charities. The mission is to develop housing for Catholic Charities and for other nonprofit agencies struggling to place their excluded clients, even as we deliver the other services designed to increase stability in the home — workforce development, financial literacy and parenting support. By offering four walls and a roof, we hope to break the cycle that keeps them homeless and offer that wider lasting change for those who need it most.
Jarrod Sanderson, Executive Director, Housing Development