Do you feel safe?
The solace of home often provides a comforting shield against outside risks. Indoors, we have the freedom to plan for the future and dream of new possibilities.
Unfortunately, many New Yorkers—particularly individuals with justice involvement—don’t have this privilege. Daily, they are vulnerable to the impact of homelessness. Without the safety of home, their path to successful reentry is extremely difficult.
Since joining nearly five years ago, Latisha Millard, our Senior Director of Scattered-Site Housing, has led her team in helping Fortune participants navigate the city’s housing system, which is often rampant with seemingly arbitrary complexities.
“Housing in itself is very restrictive,” she notes, “There are so many different restrictions on people who just need a place to live.” Oftentimes, government grants for housing are allocated for individuals with specific needs, such as those with histories of mental health needs or substance use. Individuals who don’t meet those needs, or who require more than one type of support, are often at a disadvantage. “The bottom line,” Latisha says, “is that you’re homeless, and that really should be the only criteria for housing. It shouldn’t be all these other criteria that they put out there.”
In keeping with our holistic approach to reentry, The Fortune Society tackles housing differently from strictly need-based solutions. We look at each individual’s unique circumstances, and, as Latisha mentions, “we can work within the agency to try to find the right place for [our participants], and find some way that they fit into [a housing bucket].” This persistence has paid off.
“When I first came here four years ago, we only had 69 units,” she notes, “…now we’re at 239 units—that’s a lot of people.” Our Scattered-Site Housing program is particularly suited for individuals who many not need close monitoring. These individuals may be employed or actively looking for employment, and well on a path to successful community reentry. However, after long periods of incarceration, strained family connections or other difficult circumstances left few housing options for them. “To come out and go into a shelter environment—,” notes Latisha, “it’s very difficult on a person [trying] to put their lives together.” Alongside the other supportive services we provide, our Scattered-Site Housing program is a compassionate bridge to success that allows individuals with justice involvement to realize their full potential as they reenter the community.
Daily, Latisha sees the impact of her work in the lives of those she helps. She remembers a mother of two who, after successfully completing substance use treatment, worked hard to gain housing for her family. Soon, she became a mentor to other mothers with shared experiences. Latisha sees this mother’s story, and the stories of so many that she assists, as ones filled with determination, perseverance, and hope.
Similarly, Latisha hopes that society as a whole will offer greater support for individuals with justice involvement reentering into the community. More housing is needed—and less stigma.
“…at what point does a person change their life for us [in society] to see them differently?,” she notes, “…[justice involvement] shouldn’t be a housing disqualification—just like it shouldn’t be a job disqualification. If a person’s sitting in front of you and they’re trying to get a job, they’re trying to change their life. When you tell them no, you send them back to the life that they wanted to leave. The same thing goes with housing.”
*Written by David Leon Morgan