Helping end homelessness for former convicts

Michigan

LANSING, MICH. (WLNS) — A group met in Lansing to help tackle one of the toughest barriers people face after being locked up, homelessness.

Thursday’s housing summit is tackling challenges those with a criminal record face trying to secure housing in Michigan.

The group who met included formerly incarcerated, homeless leaders, crime victims advocates along with potential landlords. They are trying to identify local and statewide solutions to this problem.

“When they see felony conviction on your record especially when it’s a drug or violence, a violent crime, the door’s usually close,” said Safe and Just Michigan Outreach director Troy Rienstra

It’s a common problem for those with a criminal record looking for housing and Rienstra knows this from experience.

He told 6 News, “I served 22 years in prison on a life term for an armed robbery that i committed in 1995.” He was released in 2015 and got a job with Safe and Just Michigan.

While looking for a place to stay, he had to reveal he had been convicted of a felony.

“While I had a great job, while I have great credit, while I believe I would be one of the best tenants that they could put in their complex, I was told that we like our tenants to be 10 years removed from their situation and that’s something i can’t change,” said Rienstra.

From all over the state, people came together for this homecoming summit to come up with a solution.

Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness Marketing Manager Laurel Burchfield said, “The way that they’ve been kept back from coming back home and living their fullest life because of something that happened 15, 20 years ago, it breaks your heart.”

They want landlords or property managers to be open to listen before turning them away.

Rienstra said, “I know a woman out of Grand Rapids who’s an ordained minister, has convictions from almost 30 years ago and the problem was when she was in her earlier years she was being trafficked and she never has the opportunity to tell that story.”

Homelessness is not only impacting those who have been to prison or jail, but their families as well.

Burchfield said, “The average age of a child experiencing homelessness with their family in Michigan is 7 and these are children that are in families with parents who have been incarcerated.”

Rienstra added that a person with safe housing is less likely to turn to crime again.

“And if we also don’t consider the reality that people can change, what does our future look like,” said Rienstra.

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