Juneau reentry program is helping justice-involved people get housing

Angel Muñoz sits in his apartment in Juneau, Alaska on April 28, 2022. He was able to secure the apartment through a reentry program run by JAMHI Health & Wellness. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

A Juneau mental health organization is helping people formerly involved in the justice system get housing, and the program is working.

Nathan Block is a reentry case manager with JAMHI Health & Wellness. He works with people before they are released from incarceration to develop a plan once they are out so they can reenter society successfully.

One of the big challenges is housing. People don’t want to rent to them because of their background.

One way to increase housing for justice-involved people is to create housing specifically for them. And there are currently some places in Juneau that do that.

But Block said that also has its problems sometimes. Some former inmates have a stigma with those houses and don’t want to stay in a place where they think people aren’t trying to work on themselves.

When it comes to employment, there are fidelity bonds available — those lower the risks and financial burden on employers. Block would like to see a similar program for housing too.

“So then landlords who in the past haven’t wanted to be a part of the voucher programs will see that they’re insured,” Block said. “So that if there ever is a situation, they don’t have to spend a lot of their own personal money updating the facility or the apartment, etcetera for the next person.”

When people are released, Block said that sometimes a person will have a big family in town who they can rely on, but that’s not common. Sometimes they are put up in hotels, which he said doesn’t really solve anything.

And they can’t just look on Facebook or Craigslist for a place; it’s next to impossible for them to find housing that way.

Block said that solving the housing problem for justice-involved people is going to require effort not just from those people, but from the community too.

“Most people who are involved in the justice system don’t just wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, what crimes can I commit today?’” Block said. “It’s a result of untreated trauma. It’s a result of a history of colonialism. And it’s also really a result of a community who doesn’t want to help them.”

Block has personal experience with incarceration, mental health and substance use. But he went through a program that helps people in his situation go to college, and it changed his life.

He got his bachelor’s and master’s, and now he’s helping other justice-involved people better their own lives, like Angel Muñoz.

After doing 7 1/2 years at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau, Muñoz was living in a situation he didn’t want to be in. He heard about the reentry program when he was going to see his parole officer and decided to check it out.

At first, progress felt slow, like nothing was happening.

“But you gotta want to help yourself before they can help you, you know what I mean?” Muñoz said. “So they’re not going to do all the work for you, they want you to do some of the work.”

And he did the work; going to counseling, AA and working two jobs.

And then they secured him a spot at the Breakwater Inn. But the funding for it ran out, and Muñoz started panicking.

“I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I was hopeless. I didn’t have control of my life,” Muñoz said. “And I go, ‘What?’ I’m doing this just to get to back where I was starting? I go, ‘No.’”

Eventually, he got housing at St. Vincent de Paul. The reentry program paid for a few months there so he could save his paychecks up for a deposit on an apartment. And now he has an apartment he’s been in for about four months now.

He did the work to make life better for his son, so he could start fresh and have a place for him.

“Because I do love him, and I need to show him I love him by doing all this,” Muñoz said. “Because, you know, if I tell him I love him, and I’m going back to jail, that’s not showing him I love him. That’s telling him I really don’t care, you know.”

Muñoz said that people who were in his position should all go through the reentry program. He said it isn’t easy, but if they put the work in and do everything honestly, something will work out.

He said he’s grateful for all the people who helped him get where he is today and didn’t give up on him – people who saw him as a person who deserved a second chance.

Lyndsey Brollini

Local News Reporter

I bring voices to my stories that have been historically underserved and underrepresented in news. I look at stories through a solutions-focused lens with a goal to benefit the community of Juneau and the state of Alaska.

Member support ensures trusted, fact-based news is always available for you and your neighbors. Support your reliable news source today. Donate to KTOO.

Read next

Site notifications
Update notification options
Subscribe to notifications