POLITICS

How San Francisco Is Helping Give Ex-Offenders A Better Shot

05/28/2015 01:22 pm ET | Updated May 29, 2015

San Francisco is helping former offenders adjust to life after prison by turning a single-room-occupancy hotel into free housing.

In a program spearheaded by the San Francisco Superior Court and the city's Adult Probation Department, the Drake Hotel in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood has been revamped as temporary housing for recently released low-level offenders and individuals who are on probation for more serious offenses. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the program is designed to serve people who are homeless and have drug or alcohol dependencies. Residents will be paired with case managers to help them with their addictions.

Advocates of the program say it will give a population at risk of recidivism a better chance at rebuilding their lives after leaving prison.

"You can’t let someone out of jail, give them $5 and say, 'Good luck,'" Krista Gaeta of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which manages supportive housing for about 1,500 individuals in the neighborhood, told the Chronicle. "The better plan is to do things like this so they can go out and get permanent housing, find work and not commit the crimes that got them in trouble in the first place."

As San Francisco rents continues to skyrocket, affordable housing is increasingly scarce. Former offenders, many of whom were released from state prisons as a part of Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) prison realignment, have to compete with one another for places to live. While the city has set aside some rooms for the recently released, many of them are only available for month-long stays.

The former Drake Hotel will initially house 42 individuals currently on probation, with more rooms becoming available as current residents of the SRO move out. (As the Examiner reported earlier this year, some longtime residents have refused to take a buyout for their rooms.) Residents will be expected to abide by a curfew and pitch in with chores. The program hopes to find residents more permanent housing within a year, and will help them save money for a security deposit and first month's rent.

The SRO conversion is the latest effort to expand opportunities for former offenders in San Francisco. Last year, the city enacted a "ban the box" ordinance prohibiting private employers from asking about an individual's criminal history on a job application. (The policy was already in place for city employers.) The idea has been popular nationwide, with 17 states and more than 100 cities adopting similar policies.

In March, Brown encouraged employers to give former offenders a chance.

"These are human beings and they have flaws, but I find most people have flaws," Brown said at the Bay Area Employers Forum. “Most of them can come back to the world ... and so they need that job.”

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