Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Urban and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Urban and Public Affairs, PhD

Committee Chair

Kelly, Janet

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Rollins, Aaron

Committee Member

Rollins, Aaron

Committee Member

Ruther, Matthew

Committee Member

Evans, Lindsey

Author's Keywords

homelessness; housing; criminal justice involvement; reentry


Individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system are more likely to experience housing instability and homelessness, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of subsequent criminal justice involvement. Due to a lack of federal funding, as well as disjointed and inconsistent policies regarding eligibility criteria, people with criminal records are unlikely to receive federal rental assistance. While the exclusion of people with criminal histories is presented as necessary to protect communities and residents from crime, improving access to stable housing may reduce recidivism, incarceration rates, and correctional costs and increase public safety. The present study examined the differences between individuals with and without criminal justice involvement who participated in a Housing First program in Louisville, Kentucky. Between 2008 and 2017, Family Health Centers-Phoenix Health Care for the Homeless enlisted individuals with a history of chronic homelessness and co-occurring substance abuse and/or mental health disorder in the Louisville Housing First Program (LHFP). The 368 who completed an intake interview, were placed in housing, and did not enter the program more than once were included in the analyses. Disparities in mental health and risky behavior were identified at earlier intervals of program exposure, but at 24 months, participants with criminal justice involvement at intake did not report more problems with mental health or risky behavior than their counterparts. Despite these improvements, participants with past criminal justice involvement were less likely to remain housed through LHFP and less likely to have a successful program outcome at 24 months compared to those without criminal histories. Criminal justice involvement at intake, social support, age, and education were significant predictors of housing outcomes at 24 months. Rather than indicators of individual attributes, critical race theory suggests that these variables are structural predictors that may reflect the inequality embedded in the institutions and structures of our society, namely the education and criminal justice systems and the economy. Disparities in the criminal justice system are not due to disproportionate engagement in criminal activity, which calls into question normative expectations of justice, neutrality, fairness, and culpability and suggests that criminal justice involvement likely reflects the prevailing values and shortcomings of our society, as opposed to the character of those targeted by these biased practices. Therefore, rather than excluding individuals from housing assistance and other opportunities on the basis of their criminal justice involvement, such histories should be considered indicators of need.