Today’s Video: The New York Prison-to-Shelter Pipeline

The record homelessness crisis – with 63,495 New Yorkers sleeping in city shelters tonight – demands a concerted effort from all levels of government, with a focus on effective prevention and affordable housing solutions. Unfortunately, a damning new investigative report by NY1’s Courtney Gross found that the State’s “prison-to-shelter pipeline” is increasingly fueling record homelessness in New York City. In 2014, about 23 percent of the 9,300 people released from State prisons to New York City went directly into the NYC shelter system. That number and percentage have risen drastically in just three years: In 2017, a full 54 percent of the people released to NYC – 4,122 people – entered the shelter system after leaving State prisons. Gross’ report explains how the instability of homelessness compounds the already daunting challenges of reentry after incarceration by following one man struggling through the process.

Gross interviewed Coalition for the Homeless Policy Director Giselle Routhier, who said the alarming rate of people entering shelters immediately after leaving prisons reflects the State’s failure to conduct proper discharge planning, including approving housing options outside the shelter system. “We’ve even seen folks that are coming into the shelter system from prisons who have addresses they think they should be able to go to, and they’re either not approved yet by their parole officers or have been denied,” Routhier said.

Josh Goldfein from the Legal Aid Society added, “It makes the parole officer’s job much easier to have all their clients in one place. If the parole officer has had a bad experience with a particular client, it may just make their life easier to send that client to stay in a shelter.”

To address this glaring and immediate problem, the State can no longer shirk its responsibilities and must engage in appropriate discharge planning for New Yorkers leaving State prisons. Long before someone is released from prison, the State should work to identify appropriate permanent housing options where formerly incarcerated individuals can get back on their feet, and cease relying so heavily on a shelter system that is ill-equipped to meet the extensive needs of such a large number of people.

Visit NY1’s website to watch the full segment.