Moving Ahead Program,
St. Francis House,
The composition of the homeless has undergone a dramatic change in many U.S. cities over the past two decades. The homeless were traditionally thought to be men who abused alcohol and other drugs; however, they are now families, women, and the formerly institutionalized such as mental patients and inmates. In New York state, approximately 33 percent of women leaving jail or prison are homeless (Engle, 1999). There is also an increasing number who are undocumented immigrants. The homeless, as a result, comprise men, women, children, adults, elders, citizens, noncitizens, and more. In essence, this population group is heterogeneous. Nevertheless, former inmates are increasingly overrepresented among the homeless as the result of record numbers of people being incarcerated in America's prisons and eventually released onto the streets.
One 1997 study of Massachusetts's homeless shelters found a significant upsurge in the number of guests who were ex-convicts and young adults, resulting in a record number of individuals seeking shelter. Results showed that out of the 1,920 beds available in ten shelters, 423, or 22 percent, were occupied by guests who were directly released from the correctional system to emergency shelters (Walker, 1998). This statistic, when generalized to the entire Massachusetts shelter system, translates into 919 guests who were ex-convicts. Another study found that from 1997 to 1998