Prisoner Reentry and Our Community

PALMER—The Mat-Su College’s café bustled with activity for a two-day summit hosted by the Mat-Su Reentry Coalition.

The Prisoner Reentry and Our Community Summit had a plethora of topics and discussions regarding challenges and solutions locals face when they are released from prison and attempt to integrate back into society. One of the more difficult challenges clients face is finding housing, both transitional and permanent, according to several speakers and attendees.

“Out here in the Valley, the options are few. It’s not nonexistent. They’re out there… Our growing need is housing,” Reentry case manager for Valley Charities and case manager for Daybreak Mental Health Services Brian Galloway said.

Galloway said that the he works with clients attempting to find transitional and permanent housing on a regular basis. He said that here in the Valley, that task is an uphill battle with very little to work with, despite a strong network of substance abuse treatment options and other resources available locally. He said that he has to send clients to Anchorage for transitional housing often.

Galloway expressed his frustration with the Valley’s reentry housing dilemma, citing that part of a client’s journey to reformation as the weakest link in the process. He blames this on the stigma attached to convicted criminals, even ones with nonviolent offenses like a DUI.

“I’ve had clients go on to get $20, $30 [an hour] jobs but then they can’t get housing because no one will accept them with a record,” Galloway said.

Galloway said that he’s had numerous cases where he successfully helped a client secure a job. But when it came to getting them a place to live, landlords all too often see their criminal record and don’t want give them a chance, even if the client has a high paying job, Galloway said.

“I mean, literally, licensed, working professionals cannot get housing because of their nonviolent criminal record. We’re not talking murderers or rapists here. We’re talking about folks who have a couple DUI’s or have a nonviolent burglary charge, or possession charges. These are folks who haven’t hurt anyone physically and they can’t get housing,” Galloway said.

Galloway said that finding transitional housing is possible however limited in scope but the hardest part is to find long-term housing for his clients. He said that he currently has three clients that are on the brink of homelessness because they cannot find permanent housing and they’ve already maxed out of their transitional housing. He said there are some housing vendors who are willing to take the chance on his clients but he needs, “more than just two or three places that will go, yeah we’ll take ‘em.’”

Galloway said that he was “happily surprised” by the sizable turnout. He said that one of his favorite highlights of this event was seeing all the community synergy in action, witnessing steady networking and people discovering other people and places they wouldn’t have even known existed prior to the Summit.

“There’s been plenty of information sharing all day long,” Galloway said.

Sherry Carrington, Executive Director of Connect Palmer, was one of the keynote speakers during the first day of the Summit. Connect Palmer is a faith-based program that started in 2014 with the initial goal of helping individual women struggling with unemployment.

In 2015, Connect Palmer opened Sarah’s House, which provides clients with housing as they go through their four phases of treatment. Currently, Sarah’s House offers two apartments with eight beds. Carrington said that their clients are primarily from the Valley, with some from Anchorage, and even some from the villages. She said that their clients have a very high success rate. Out of the 60 women housed, Carrington only knew of one woman who returned to prison. She noted that woman has since been released from jail is attempting to get back on track.

“It’s good to see them stay out and stay focused,” Carrington said.

One speaker, Partners for Progress Center Director Cathleen McLaughlin, said that their reentry program currently has 400 beds in Anchorage with about 240 people housed. Carrington said that compared to Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley still has catching up to do, regarding housing for clients.

“When it comes to the housing component, I think Anchorage has more resources,” Carrington said.

Looking forward, Carrington said that Connect Palmer is going to stay the course, not worrying about expanding but to focus on their existing services, their clients and their community partners.

“One organization can’t meet everything… We just want to keep doing what we’re doing and do it well to keep these ladies on their feet,” Carrington said.

Galloway said that there is still a lot of work to be done and the stigma for convicted criminals is still strong.

“If I had to guess, we won’t have suitable housing options for another five, ten years at least,” Galloway said.

Carrington noted that 15 years ago, the Valley’s transitional housing options were stark in comparison.

“There was no housing… There’s a lot more in the Valley in the last 15 years… There’s a lot more options now. That’s very encouraging,” Carrington said.

For additional information regarding transitional housing, low income housing and related resources, visit the Mat-Su Coalition on Housing & Homelessness’ website: www.mschh.org/community-resources.html

For information a variety of immediate needs including transitional housing, child care, transportation, treatment options and other resources, visit: www.alaska211.org

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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