Office of Reentry Continues to Provide Services During COVID-19

by Katrice Williams , Program Officer 4, Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry

COVID19As COVID-19 impacts Ohio, it exposes the populations most vulnerable to the pandemic including currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. Most people with a criminal history will find it harder now, more than ever, to find housing due to the broad deployment of criminal background and credit checks.

Housing providers are permitted to conduct background checks on prospective tenants but, according to a 2016 HUD Guidance, they cannot ban someone simply because they have a felony conviction or arrest record. Still, without transparent application processes and with many housing courts closed or operating minimally right now, prospective tenants have few options to challenge their denied housing applications in court.

“The assumption that only people with violent backgrounds are denied housing simply isn’t true.”

Individuals coming home from incarceration or detention will need to find safe and affordable housing where they can quarantine themselves for up to two or three weeks. Their potential exposure to the virus, due to living in close quarters, means they were less likely to be able to separate from asymptomatic individuals, until after those persons exhibited symptoms and entered isolation. Thus, they will need a place where they can be separate from others while not feeling the pressure to find employment immediately and having their basic living needs, like food, medical care and utilities, met. The more support individuals and their families can have coming home in the next few weeks, the better. Therefore, in addition to housing, they will need easy access to social services, via free telephone services, to successfully implement social distancing.

The Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry, an agency under the auspices of the county’s Health and Human Services, will be working with North Star Neighborhood Reentry Resource Center to provide drive-thru supplies to individuals coming home from incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals will receive vouchers for birth certificates, two bus tickets with new modified bus routes, a Dave’s gift card, a non-perishable food box, soap, and a list of open resources. Distributions will be continuing every Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (while supplies last) at North Star, which is located at 1834 E. 55th St. Cleveland, OH, 44103.

The Office of Reentry has also partnered with Securus Foundation to launch Exodus Planner. Exodus is an online resource guide that allows returning citizens and their families to search for local services and resources related to housing, employment, behavioral health, and other financial assistance. A special COVID-19 resources page has been created to link individuals to organizations that are responding directly to the crisis. Individuals can scan resources based on their zip code and create an individualized reentry plan by logging in.

“Detainees in Ohio’s prisons have access to Exodus too. Families and friends can inform their loved ones that Exodus is available to them through JPay.”

Finally, individuals who were released from prison after April 1, 2019, are homeless or facing homelessness, and have a mental illness, can apply for a special housing subsidy through the Community Transition Program (CTP), which is being funded by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (ODMHAS). The subsidy will assist individuals who participated in a recovery program or were designated C1 by their prison institution. Multiple counties are covered under the grant, which has been extended until April 30, 2020. If you or someone you know with a criminal background and mental illness is facing a housing crisis, please e-mail for more information on the subsidy.

More updates about other housing and employment resources will follow in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please check Exodus and the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry for more updates.