The Homecoming Project in Alameda County, Ca., is a first-of-a-kind program providing vitally needed housing for inmates released from prison. The program aims to break down misconceptions and fear surrounding the formerly incarcerated, NPR reports. The project matches prisoners being released after long sentences with homeowners and renters who want to take part in the experiment. The nonprofit behind the program pays the former inmates’ rent for six months. It is an example of “the sharing economy with a conscience, with values,” says Alex Busansky, a former prosecutor and Justice Department lawyer who runs Impact Justice, the group behind the novel housing initiative.
The project provides cash subsidies to homeowners in exchange for renting a room to a former inmate. It is similar to how Airbnb allows people to monetize their extra living spaces. “For people getting out of prison, the penalty hasn’t ended and re-entry is its own obstacle course that everybody has to navigate,” Busansky says. “And housing is essential to being able to get through that obstacle course: if you don’t have a place to sleep, to shower, to keep your things, it’s very difficult to think about doing anything else.” Finding stable, affordable housing — especially in the San Francisco Bay Area — is often one of the biggest barriers to ex-inmates, along with finding a decent job and getting their life back on track. So far, the experiment is small. It launched a few months ago with six male ex-convicts paired with local hosts — couples and families — around the Bay Area. Impact Justice hopes to expand it to 25 participants by the end of this year. One recent report estimates that former inmates are almost ten times more likely to become homeless than the general population.