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Helping the formerly jailed get back on their feet

As a gang member at the young age of 9, pre-incarcerated homeless man at the age of 18 and prisoner of 13 years by my mid-30s, I know all too well how difficult it can be to reintegrate back into society after incarceration.

The first time I was released from Los Angeles County Jail, I was too ashamed to go back to my parents’ house in Long Beach, so I would sleep in laundry rooms and on park benches. Homelessness was a major challenge for me. I had no stability, no place to call home, and so continued to get caught up in the cycle.

When I was released from prison in 2008, I sought help from Homeboy Industries, and will be forever grateful to them for providing me with supportive services as well as strong leadership development, which ultimately led me to being part of their executive management team as their director of external affairs.

Nowadays, I work as the director of external affairs at Brilliant Corners, an organization that provides housing-related services to, among others, people transitioning from or at risk of homelessness after coming into contact with the justice system.

Every day, I’m honored to advocate for folks coming home after a period of incarceration so that they may secure a stable place to live, but my daily work also reminds me just how daunting the challenge is of making sure people coming home after incarceration have housing, and just how critical for our collective safety it is that we get it right.

Yet far too often, here in Los Angeles and across California, institutional barriers make it difficult for people like me  who have experienced incarceration to find housing, and homelessness too often exacerbates the conditions that lead to crime.

It’s a vicious cycle that can only be interrupted by doing a better job of making sure our formerly incarcerated community members have the resources, networks, services and — perhaps most importantly — housing we need to successfully reenter our communities.

Thanks to the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, hope is on the way.

Senate Bill 731, a new law that went into effect earlier this year and allows people to seal most all old convictions on their record, is a critical and long-overdue piece of legislation that will help ensure  those reentering society are able to find stable housing.

For too long, people living with old conviction records have been saddled with thousands of legal restrictions barring us from things like housing, employment and other keys to family stability and economic security,  despite the fact we long ago fully completed our sentences and paid our debts, a reality that only serves to fuel the cycle of crime and recidivism.

By allowing people to seal an old conviction record and making sure someone wanting to move forward in their life won’t be forced into homelessness because of a mistake from their past, we will only strengthen our collective safety and well being.

When I was in the housing search process, landlords would ask for my criminal record before I could even fill out an application.

This problem not only affected me, but affected my children as well. I often had no choice but to have my wife fill out applications saying she would be the only adult resident of the household, which resulted in my family and I being evicted multiple times.

Luckily, I am a homeowner now, but saving up to buy a home in Los Angeles is extremely difficult, and it is unjust that previously incarcerated individuals are too often excluded from renting.

But thanks to Senate Bill 731, more than 250,000 Californians will have old conviction records automatically sealed beginning later this year, as long as they’ve fully completed their sentence and gone four subsequent years without further contact with the justice system. And more than a million more can immediately petition a judge to have old records permanently sealed.

No longer will people be denied a place to live simply because of a past mistake.

This is the kind of approach to real public safety we must commit to in this county and across our great state.

We know that true safety is more than just the absence of crime — it’s the presence of well-being. And when people have the opportunity to meet their basic needs, like housing, we will achieve the safety we all want to see in each of our communities and neighborhoods.

 

As a gang member at the young age of 9, pre-incarcerated homeless man at the age of 18 and prisoner of 13 years by my mid-30s, I know all too well how difficult it can be to reintegrate back into society after incarceration.

The first time I was released from Los Angeles County Jail, I was too ashamed to go back to my parents’ house in Long Beach, so I would sleep in laundry rooms and on park benches. Homelessness was a major challenge for me. I had no stability, no place to call home, and so continued to get caught up in the cycle.

When I was released from prison in 2008, I sought help from Homeboy Industries, and will be forever grateful to them for providing me with supportive services as well as strong leadership development, which ultimately led me to being part of their executive management team as their director of external affairs.

Nowadays, I work as the director of external affairs at Brilliant Corners, an organization that provides housing-related services to, among others, people transitioning from or at risk of homelessness after coming into contact with the justice system.

Every day, I’m honored to advocate for folks coming home after a period of incarceration so that they may secure a stable place to live, but my daily work also reminds me just how daunting the challenge is of making sure people coming home after incarceration have housing, and just how critical for our collective safety it is that we get it right.

Yet far too often, here in Los Angeles and across California, institutional barriers make it difficult for people like me  who have experienced incarceration to find housing, and homelessness too often exacerbates the conditions that lead to crime.

It’s a vicious cycle that can only be interrupted by doing a better job of making sure our formerly incarcerated community members have the resources, networks, services and — perhaps most importantly — housing we need to successfully reenter our communities.

Thanks to the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, hope is on the way.

Senate Bill 731, a new law that went into effect earlier this year and allows people to seal most all old convictions on their record, is a critical and long-overdue piece of legislation that will help ensure  those reentering society are able to find stable housing.

For too long, people living with old conviction records have been saddled with thousands of legal restrictions barring us from things like housing, employment and other keys to family stability and economic security,  despite the fact we long ago fully completed our sentences and paid our debts, a reality that only serves to fuel the cycle of crime and recidivism.

By allowing people to seal an old conviction record and making sure someone wanting to move forward in their life won’t be forced into homelessness because of a mistake from their past, we will only strengthen our collective safety and well being.

When I was in the housing search process, landlords would ask for my criminal record before I could even fill out an application.

This problem not only affected me, but affected my children as well. I often had no choice but to have my wife fill out applications saying she would be the only adult resident of the household, which resulted in my family and I being evicted multiple times.

Luckily, I am a homeowner now, but saving up to buy a home in Los Angeles is extremely difficult, and it is unjust that previously incarcerated individuals are too often excluded from renting.

But thanks to Senate Bill 731, more than 250,000 Californians will have old conviction records automatically sealed beginning later this year, as long as they’ve fully completed their sentence and gone four subsequent years without further contact with the justice system. And more than a million more can immediately petition a judge to have old records permanently sealed.

No longer will people be denied a place to live simply because of a past mistake.

This is the kind of approach to real public safety we must commit to in this county and across our great state.

We know that true safety is more than just the absence of crime — it’s the presence of well-being. And when people have the opportunity to meet their basic needs, like housing, we will achieve the safety we all want to see in each of our communities and neighborhoods.

Jose Osuna, a Long Beach resident who was formerly incarcerated, is currently the director of external affairs for Brilliant Corners, an organization that provides housing related services to people at risk of homelesness after coming into contact with the justice system. 

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