"A better chance"
I was released from Montana Women's Prison on parole January 2015, with a violent offense charge on my record. After two failed parole attempts living in Billings, I chose to furlough to Missoula this time, where I knew no one, to avoid old associations and to have a better chance at staying out, clean and sober. I stayed at Poverello first and found full-time work immediately in housekeeping. When I had to leave the Pov and started looking for an apartment, I found that no landlord was going to rent to me, even with a good full time job, because of the violent offense on my record from years ago, no rental history, past addictions, and Native American background. I rented a downtown motel room without a kitchen for $800 a month so that I could walk to work, leaving me almost no money for food, and no way to buy and prepare it. After two months of this, I was ready to go back to prison -- why bother to keep trying?
At that point, MIC Homeless Advocates Network (HAN) contacted me and offered to help with finding housing. Two advocates helped me with letters of recommendation from my PO, my employer, and the motel owner, vouching for my sobriety, good work record, and steady rent payments since release. The HAN advocates went with me to apply for a bunch of different listed apartments, which cost me $30-40 each, but I was turned down every time. PFR Leadership Team members got involved, making personal appeals to two property managers during the summer months with no success, even though they had affordable downtown studio apartments ($525) available, which would have allowed me to walk to work.
After 6 months, I could no longer afford the motel taking most of my paycheck and I was not willing to keep losing money applying for more apartments and being rejected to my face. I gave up on the help from the Homeless Advocates and found an acquaintance who had a room to rent in a house. It's not a perfect arrangement, but I can afford it, and I have continued to work fulltime. I am still looking for permanent housing for myself in Missoula.
"I would have gone down the same path again."
When I got out of pre-release the first time, I was living with a girlfriend, and we had enough money for good housing for us and my son to live with us. But then we broke up, and I had to find somewhere to live just for me and my son. But the property management agency had changed, and they wouldn't continue to rent to me because of my violent offense. So we were going to be homeless the next day. I went to a local agency/the Salvation Army in Missoula but they couldn't help me because of my felony record. So they offered me and my son sleeping bags.
I had to send my son to live with my mother away from Missoula at that point, and I just gave up. The one thing I was holding onto was being a good father, and I felt like a total failure as a dad. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, couch surfing, and got back into trouble, and was recommitted. When I was released from addiction treatment two years ago, clean and sober, I was fortunate to find a mentor and employer who took me in and gave me a place to live as well as work for a year. Having a safe, sober place to live this time has made all the difference in my recovery. If I had lived with others like before that first time, I would have gone down the same path again.
After that first year, my new girlfriend and I had the money for first and last months rent and security deposit, so we started looking for a place for us and for our children. I have my son back, and she has her two children. But because of my record, all we could find was a trailer, a small two-bedroom for 2 adults and 3 kids in a bad neighborhood, with drugs all around us. It's not a place to raise kids. We're renting to own, and we'll have it paid off in another month. Then we can sell or rent it, and look for someplace better for our family, while I start back to college.
was released to the Poverello Homeless Shelter in 2013 after 11 years incarceration. I had $143 saved from prison jobs earning .07-.25 per hour. I arrived in Missoula wearing sweats purchased in the prison commissary and had nothing else to my name: No ID, no SSI card, no job, no housing, no credit history, no rental history, no community support/resources, no prospects. I hadn't lived in Missoula for nearly 30 years, and had to start a new life with fewer resources than when I left home as a 16-year old. Additionally, long incarceration left me with chronic untreated health problems that presented more barriers to employment.
I spent close to a month at the old Poverello but found living there as a woman overwhelming and dangerous. I could not find any employment except day labor, but that gave me enough to buy an old car for $500. With no rental history or steady work, no one was going to rent to me. I left the Poverello and moved to the Walmart parking lot, spending the winter of 2013-14 living there in my car. That 'housing' arrangement exacerbated my longstanding trauma history and mental illness, and I began considering suicide as the only way out.
What changed? The one case manager at Poverello finally got to me and recognized my distress after several months -- it took that long because of the swirl of folks moving through. He signed an affirmation of my homelessness and disability status to get me on the Shelter Plus Care Section 8 housing program of Vocational Rehab. Partnership Health also made recommendations and referrals for my acceptance into these programs. With supported housing, a good therapist and medication, I'm now at the end of my 3-year parole, working steadily, active in the community as a volunteer, meeting my parole requirements including restitution, and sane for the first time in many years.
"It's a business decision"
I've been out a year and a half. I know I went in because of choices I made, those were my choices and I have to be accountable for my actions. I made bad mistakes when I was a kid-- fifteen. I was really just a child. When I returned to society, I had two of the things I needed, I had a great family and I was very lucky to get a job right away. But I didn't have housing. I'm a three-time convicted violent offender so a lot of people aren't going to even look at my application. I had to live in a motel for three months straight, and paying for a motel room was very expensive. Then I got the opportunity to live with a friend for seven months, but living with a friend isn't necessarily great. He was also a convicted felon, and I was often put in situations that were uncomfortable, and not ideal for success. At that time I had not other living options.
So for 11 months every day I was contacting property management companies, and it got so I could look at the newspaper, or ads, or any other form of advertising and recognize the numbers of the property managers by heart, because I did it every day. I was on it every day because I didn't want to return to prison. I'd spent literally half of my life in prison. I went into prison when I was 15, and I got out when I was 31.
I understand that it's not just bias against ex-felons, it's a business decision by property managers, and that they are protecting their property, but it's not necessarily protecting society when i don't have a place to live, and don't have a job. In some cases, you can't get a job if you don't have a place to live. I finally found a landlord willing to rent to me, and I've maintained the same good housing with him since then, and good employment.