Each year, thousands of young adults filter through the criminal justice system in Charlotte, N.C. While a lot of attention is given to finding solutions for decreasing the number of young adults in the system, equal attention must be paid to meeting their needs post-incarceration.
Upon their release, young adults often encounter barriers that limit their access to stable housing, employment, and education. These barriers often result in housing instability, putting young adults at a higher risk for becoming repeat offenders.
One of the primary concerns for a young adult recently released from incarceration is finding stable housing. Unfortunately, a number of variables make this difficult for recent offenders. Some may find that their families will not allow them to return home because of family discord. In other cases, young adults may not be able to return to the family home because their families may have lost stable housing themselves. Quite often this is a result of restrictions imposed by landlords or the housing authority that do not allow those with a criminal record to rent because of a fear of criminal activity happening on the property.
A criminal history can also prevent young adults from finding employment, which, in turn, can prevent them from getting stable housing. Many companies do not hire those with even an arrest record, making it even more difficult for those who have been incarcerated to find work. Companies that do hire those with a criminal history often do not provide these individuals with many opportunities for upward advancement, leaving them underemployed.
Furthermore, depending on the age at which incarceration occurred, an offender’s ability to either finish their education can be severely limited. A lack of education can prevent a young adult from getting a job that can pay for safe and stable housing.
Vicious cycle can be created
The negative effects of homelessness and under- or unemployment can be far-reaching. A lack of sufficient employment and the desire for safe housing can lead to more criminal involvement. Sometimes, these crimes are committed purely for survival (i.e. trespassing in order to find a safe place to sleep). At other times, the crimes can be more intentional, like the theft of food or money. In either case, young adults can find themselves incarcerated again.
Homeless young adults can also become the victims of human or labor trafficking, which can cause or exacerbate mental health issues or substance abuse. These problems, if left unaddressed, can continue to prevent young adults from obtaining the stable housing they need in order to exit the cycle of homelessness.
Fortunately, members of the Charlotte community came together and formed The Relatives On-Ramp Resource Center in 2010 to help address the problem of homelessness among young adults. On-Ramp is a drop-in location in the heart of uptown Charlotte that takes a multifaceted approach to helping young adults. On-Ramp is open to all individuals aged 16 to 24 regardless of their criminal history. Case managers provide daily life skills workshops, including assistance with the expungement of criminal records. An employment specialist helps young adults find jobs by assisting with resume building, providing soft skills training and connecting youth with community-based mentors. Educational programming is also provided to help young adults get their GED degree.
For the most basic of needs, On-Ramp provides young adults with access to food, clothing, hygiene products, showers and a washer/dryer. A case manager specializing in rapid rehousing helps young adults get access to mid-/long-term housing subsidies. Case managers utilize a low-barrier, housing-first model, ensuring that the housing needs of young adults are met before addressing employment, education, mental health or substance abuse issues.
Although The Relatives On-Ramp Resource Center has been very successful in Charlotte, it only provides short-term solutions. The ultimate goal of The Relatives, and other organizations like it, is to encourage long-term, systemic change at the state and national level. Only when this happens will The Relatives reach its ultimate goal of ending homelessness.
Thomas Montaglione joined The Relatives team in 2016 as a case manager and in 2018 became housing program supervisor, directing both The Relatives’ transitional living home and scattered-site housing. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in criminology and justice.