Moving the Work Forward: Action Steps

Start implementing the Zero Returns to Homelessness vision now by adopting one or more of the strategies below. These strategies are based on what works in the field to bridge systems of corrections and care and create housing opportunities for people in reentry. Communities across the country are already beginning to successfully take on this cross-system work and proving that it can lead to real results in the form of concrete housing opportunities. The strategies below can help you get started along that same path.

1. Bridge silos among systems by collaborating with elected officials, criminal justice system representatives, behavioral health providers, and housing services providers (e.g., Continuums of Care, housing authority). This cross-system collaboration enables communities to develop a shared sense of their unique housing issues and tailor solutions using resources from multiple systems.

Tip box:  

Meet with an initial team of people to identify what other representatives or groups should be part of a cross-system effort. Then, through discussions and training opportunities, begin learning about each other’s systems and perspectives.


[Photo: State of Colorado. Caption: Colorado used BJA Second Chance Act funding to launch a collaborative, systems-wide approach to support housing development in the state.]

2. Conduct universal housing assessments to  understand people’s housing and service needs before they leave prison or jail. Pre-release assessments will help prevent episodes of homelessness upon release and reduce the amount of barriers to accessing housing Gleaning this kind of information can also help communities overcome obstacles such as lack of data, as well as help understand the scale and service needs required to achieve the Zero to Homelessness vision. The data collected can also, help make the case for additional resources and funding.

Tip box: Meet as a team to review the National Reentry Resource Center’s housing questionnaire, discuss how it can be tailored to local needs or compares against current assessments, and test implementation of the questionnaire:

[Photo: Clark County, WA
Caption: In Clark County, WA, the Clark County Jail System and the main housing assessment (Coordinated Entry) provider within the County’s homeless system—, the  Council for the Homeless—, worked  together to establish a housing assessment and screening process, that proactively is used conducts in-reach to assess housing need before people return to the community following incarceration.] 

3. Equitably connect people to evidence-based housing solutions, such as rapid rehousing and , permanent supportive housing, by working to address individual barriers to housing and deploying resources to serve the reentry population. Making these connections using a warm handoff approach helps prevent people from falling between the cracks of the criminal justice, housing, behavioral health, and other systems involved in promoting successful reentry.

Tip box: Brainstorm with partners to identify existing barriers to housing, how they are currently addressed, how to build from existing strengths (such as introducing -handoffs or using flexible short-term assistance), and resources that could support this effort, (such as re-prioritization of housing subsidies or aligning reentry grants with this work). Communities, such as Austin and Chicago, are redesigning their housing prioritization to advance equity and, in Chicago in particular, considering the effects of incarceration when assessing for housing prioritization.

[Photo: Austin, TX Caption: The Downtown Austin Community Court, the Travis County Mental Health Public Defender’s Office , Austin ECHO (the local CoC / homeless system), the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, and the Travis County Housing Authority used data to assess the need for permanent housing among the reentry population and then prioritized HUD Emergency Housing Vouchers made available through the American Rescue Plan to offer permanent housing interventions to this population.] 

4. Lower barriers to housing at the housing provider level by working with private and public property owners to build relationships, make housing connections, and evaluate and update policies and practices that create these barriers. These partnerships can help make housing immediately available when someone is reentering the community, avoiding the overuse of emergency shelters or releases into homelessness and opening up pathways to longer-term housing options.

[Tip box: Identify staff capacity to build relationships with landlords. Landlord liaisons with backgrounds in real estate, property management, and business can speak to prospective landlords with a shared perspective. This helps to quickly address issues that arise and break down stigma.]

[Photo: The Michigan Department of Corrections partners with a range of housing providers (motels, private landlords, and others) to offer transitional housing as people leave incarceration, as well as connections to permanent housing options.]

5. Expand the number of housing options available. With an affordable housing crisis plaguing the nation, simply “rearranging the deck chairs” will ultimately leave most communities woefully short on meeting their housing needs. However, cross-system partners can work to increase immediate opportunities while planning long -term to grow the housing pie for all. This can be accomplished not only through housing development, but also through means such as identifying new sources of rental assistance or leveraging existing low or no-cost resources (such as surplus buildings or land).

Tip box: Gather current data and cost estimates (e.g., jail/prison stays, hospital stays, shelter data, law enforcement contact) to illustrate the costliness of not addressing housing in order to make the business and equity case for investing in more housing.]

[Photo: Cuyahoga County, OH
Caption: In  Cuyahoga County, OH, a cross-system team led by the Common Pleas Court and the Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services Board, piloted the creation of 15 new housing units with supportive services for people who frequently cycle among systems while gathering homelessness, jail, and hospital data, and used cost estimates to make the case for long-term, sustainable investments in housing.

6. Leverage and combine a range of funding sources to flexibly support on-going housing work. Teams working across systems benefit from agile funding that brings together the core pieces of this work, (such as rental assistance funding, funding and /staff needed for securing units, supportive services, and responsive administrative capacity. A diverse funding pool is also necessary to start addressing the full scope of reentry housing needs.

Tip Box:  Work with partners to catalogue existing pieces that make up the core components of a local flexible housing spending pool and brainstorm steps to bring these components together.

 [Photo: Los Angeles, CA
Caption: Los Angeles County’s flexible housing spending pool supports programs, including the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, to conduct in-reach, fund rental assistance, and help keep people stably housed.]