Homecoming Project matches people returning from prison to temporary homes with hosts

Five years in, none of the participants have gone back to prison. And hosts are paid by the program.

From Impact Justice

As homelessness continues to be one of the Bay Area’s most pressing issues, there is one, often-forgotten population that is 10 times more likely to be unhoused — people getting back on their feet after returning home from prison.

But what if Oakland residents could make a difference, and even make some extra money in the process?

Learn more about becoming a Homecoming Project host.
This is where the Homecoming Project comes in. Inspired by the sharing economy, the Homecoming Project is a first-of-its-kind program from the innovation and research center Impact Justice, which matches homeowners who have a spare room with individuals reentering their communities from prison. Homeowners get a monthly stipend, and participants get a place to stay, alongside a spectrum of reentry support.

“At first glance, some might think this program is solely about housing, but it’s much bigger than that. It’s about community,” said Bernadette Butler, Director of the Homecoming Project.

At the heart of the program are community members like Oakland-based host John Williams, who open their homes and, in the process, create seemingly unlikely bonds. He first hosted Michael, and is now hosting Duane.

Williams recalls at a young age giving away food in his neighborhood. His heart for service only grew into adulthood, as he opened his home to transitioning youth.

“People remind me that I’ve always housed people, and it comes back. Being a man of a certain age and needing to recalibrate to the changing environment of the workplace, I relate to how it must feel to find your footing and the importance of having the support to do that,” said Williams.

In addition to receiving housing, Homecoming Project participants also receive one-to-one guidance from a community navigator who offers resources and support at every stage of the reentry experience. This support plays a huge role in the program’s success.

Not only has the Homecoming Project recently expanded to Contra Costa and Los Angeles counties, but the program also celebrated an important milestone — its 100th participant.

To date, every participant has finished the six-month program and moved on to stable housing of their own, 95% graduate from the program with a job or enrolled in a job training or educational program, and none have returned to prison. But perhaps the most unexpected outcome is the relationships forged between hosts and participants — often going from strangers to family.

“The guy who’s here now, he’s cool, he’s funny, he’s clean, he’s kind. So far, it feels like an extension of a friend or a family member,” said Williams.

Williams first learned about the Homecoming Project from a friend who spoke highly of the program, but it wasn’t a yes until he learned about the program’s matching process.

“At first there’s resistance. I was saying no, too, until I had the chance to meet them and intuitively connect with what feels good for me.”

Now, Williams is the one telling his neighbors about the program. He even coined his own phrase to describe his hosting experience: Inspired hosting.

“I hope to be an example of inspired hosting. When I met Michael, I was inspired to say yes. When Duane came I was inspired to say yes. And I’ll keep going until the next one I feel inspired to say yes to.”