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John Howard Society hopes to provide transitional housing for ex-prisoners

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The John Howard Society of Toronto (JHT) will file a funding application with the City of Toronto to build a transitional housing facility for men who have been recently released from prison.

In 2010, the JHT commissioned a study to determine the cost savings of transitional housing and supports for homeless ex-prisoners and sexual offenders.

Making Toronto Safer: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Transitional Housing Supports for Men Leaving Incarceration, released Tuesday, concluded that transitional housing and supports can save an estimated $350,000 for a homeless ex-prisoner and $109,000 for sexual offenders.

"We knew a number of things undertaking this project," said Greg Rogers, Executive Director, John Howard Society of Toronto.

They knew that 80,000 prisoners were being released from prison in Ontario each year. About 95 per cent of them released directly into the community. They were aware that 2,000 men spent last night in a Toronto jail and a new detention centre is being built in south Etobicoke that will hold 1,625 men.

And they understand that homelessness increases when you're in jail.

"And that stands to reason. The longer you're in jail the chances are you've lost any employment. You've lost your place to live. And in many cases you've lost your supports."

According to numerous studies, offering no supports to those leaving prison often leads to more criminal activity and re-incarceration. Others end up trapped on the streets or in shelters.

Clients entering the JHT transitional housing and supports program will have their own one-bedroom single unit and not be allowed to visit other clients' rooms. They will have to let staff know when they are leaving the building, where they are going and when they will return.

All clients will have a housing counsellor and will remain in the program for approximately one year.

Rogers said transitional housing has worked in Ottawa, where John Howard has operated a similar model to what JHT proposed at Tuesday's press conference at the Munk Centre for International Studies.

The JHT transitional housing facility will differ from a shelter in that it will work with men to help them meet the conditions of their release into the community as well as secure permanent housing.

"It's impossible to house a guy the day he gets out of jail," said Rogers. "Because after all it's hard to show him various apartments while he's incarcerated."

When homeless men stay in shelters the success rate (ex-prisoners not re-offending) was just 14.7 per cent. With transitional housing, it's over 50 per cent.

Five years ago, JHT helped Ron obtain affordable housing when he was released from prison.

"For three and a half years I did very well," said Ron. "But I abused my medication and ended up back in jail."

Anticipating a prison sentence, he gave up his housing and spent the next few months in custody before being released.

"But now I've got no place to go because I gave up my housing." So he went back to JHT who helped him obtain temporary accommodation until they found him another affordable housing unit.

Due to an ongoing addiction problem, Ron lost that home too. After completing a rehabilitation program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, he left and went to a shelter.

"But I just didn't feel comfortable in a shelter," said Ron.

For the last five months, he's been living in a new unit which he found with the assistance of a housing worker at JHT.

"I'm very happy. Things are working out pretty good."

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