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Transatlantic Exchange: The Office of Diversion and Re-Entry

Our System Broker Alex is currently in LA as part of Homeless Link's Transatlantic Exchange, and will be working with Brilliant Corners for the next two weeks to learn about Critical Time Intervention (CTI) and how this way of working can benefit multiple complex needs programmes back in the UK. In her first week in LA, Alex has seen how Brilliant Corners' programmes support multiple complex needs individuals like those we support in Newcastle and Gateshead. Their support includes The Office of Diversion and Re-Entry, for people leaving prison.

My host for the Transatlantic Exchange provides a number of different programmes for homeless people with criminal records. The main programme I am here to visit is Breaking Barriers, which provides temporary housing with case management support to people who have already been released from jail/prison and who are on probation.

I have also been learning about a second large-scale programme delivered through Brilliant Corners: the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool (FHSP).  The FHSP started as a response to the over-reliance and inappropriate use of health services by the homeless population and since then it has grown to include other funding streams to provide housing and support.  The FHSP offers permanent housing with Housing Co-ordinators and Case Managers.

 I think that this is a crucial difference in the way housing for vulnerable people is provided in the US compared to the UK, where there is a clear distinction between ‘housing retention specialists’ and support work/case management.  I have heard from the Brilliant Corners staff about how essential this difference is, so that issues like rent arrears and anti-social behaviour can be dealt with separately to pyscho-social therapeutic interventions, and again, I think this is where the focus on relationships and connections is key and makes a big difference about how housing and support is maintained.

One specific programme I have learned about is The Office of Diversion and Re-Entry (ODR) which is a programme specifically for people currently in jail/prison who also have mental health problems.  The ODR offers a ‘plea bargain’ for people in custody to be released early; I attended The Diversion Court to see exactly how this works in practice.

Alex Transatlantic exchange

The court was enormous!  On getting into the building I had to go through rigorous security and then waited about 20 minutes just to get into the elevator to the 13th floor.  On arriving at court 123 I was introduced to the ODR co-ordinator and also a senior physician who are both directly involved in the referral/screening of prisoners to the ODR programme and oversee the transition from jail to the community.  In the three hours I was at court, we saw 13 cases, all of which were male, but I have learned that ODR is open to females as well.

LA’s assistant district judge, Sam Ohta, presided over the hearings and made decisions to allow several men to avoid prison sentences of up to three years by accepting guilty pleas and referring to the ODR programme.  The ODR programme then allows people to access permanent supportive housing and indefinite case managements.  I heard from staff that from release, people are housed in ‘bridge housing’ until a permanent unit can be secured, which typically takes a maximum of 2 weeks.

The people I saw in court all had a long history of criminal activity/convictions and also had mental health problems, substance misuse and chronic homelessness, and are very much like the clients we work with through the Big Lottery-funded Fulfilling Lives programme.  The ODR programme gives complex needs individuals an opportunity to avoid prison with an effective and supportive transition into the community with appropriate housing and indefinite support; I feel like this is something our Fulfilling Lives clients would benefit from enormously.

The ODR programme then allows people to access permanent supportive housing and indefinite case managements.  I heard from staff that from release, people are housed in ‘bridge housing’ until a permanent unit can be secured, which typically takes a maximum of 2 weeks.

Although the ODR programme does not work within the Critical Time Intervention model I feel there are clear links between the two when we consider our structure within the UK.  The programmes offered by Brilliant Corners are very much determined by the Housing Subsidy available and in the UK we are very fortunate to have a universal Housing Benefit system which means we are not as restricted in the housing options available.  Based on this, I think there are opportunities for CTI to be used for people who are transitioning out of prison, where time-limited and clear phases of support are offered and flexible options are given at the end of the CTI intervention which are appropriate for the individual’s needs; this may include an offer of permanent supportive accommodation or could be a transition to an independent tenancy.   I am hopeful that the programmes here offer much to explore for the UK for successful, sustainable transition from prison to community.

Alex