Hotels for detainees? Funding for temporary COVID-19 program nearing end

Photo courtesy of Community Alternatives

Those getting out of city jails in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic may not have the option to take a hotel to isolate after funding runs dry at the end of June.

Advocates in front of the Manhattan Detention Center – known as the Tombs – called on the city government replenish the funds that not only help detainees and convicts getting on their feet, but homeless individuals, who may be experiencing difficulties with housing discrimination.

Marvin Mayfield, Statewide Organizer at Center for Community Alternatives, said on Monday that while the COVID-19 scare has been beaten back in New York, it is not over yet and neither should the funding.

“This isn’t over –this isn’t over by a long-shot, and they say there is going to be a resurrgence of [COVID-19] that they say is gong to come,” Mayfield said. “We need people to understand that housing is one of the most important things that people need when they’re being released from jail and prisons.”

Housing discrimination, according to the advocates with Community Alternatives, comes in the form of the recently incarcerated being rejected from an apartment on the basis of income requirements set in place by landlords and leasing companies.

“Re-entry housing helps recently released New Yorkers create a pathway to lasting stability,” Avery Cohen, a mayoral spokesman, said. “These services are a critical aspect of our broader mission to transform our criminal justice system into a system that is fundamentally fairer and more just.”

Salik Karim, from the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity and a formerly incarcerated person, explained that even though he has been out for ten years he still gets asked by those renting apartments why he was in prison. For the last four years, he has been bouncing between friends, family and other locations for shelter.

“This is a prime example of how systemic racism is a historical plague in this country impacting people of color,” Karim said. “We are directly targeted in our communities… The background check has been utilized in the past as a weapon; a weapon of displacement, a weapon to deny access and a weapon to incarcerate.”

While COVID-19 is still a risk effecting black and brown communities disproportionately, a variety of groups have spend the worst of the pandemic calling for the release of detainees and prisoners who are at risk of contracting the virus. 

Councilman Keith Powers believes that providing stable housing or a place to stay in the interim is the most immediate solution for those in the criminal justice system.

“COVID-19 has hit our jail population hard. We need to ensure that individuals impacted by the criminal justice system who do not have permanent, safe housing have a place to go in the long term—which means allocating more resources to housing these New Yorkers in need. I thank advocates for their continued focus.”