The links between homelessness and imprisonment are increasingly well-known: research shows that 25% of Australian prisoners are homeless before they enter prison and 31% exit into homelessness (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2015). The Health of Australia's Prisoners, 28-29). Former prisoners are also twice as likely to return to prison within nine months of release if they are homeless (Baldry et al 2006). Access to housing is a crucial piece of the puzzle in creating opportunities for prisoners to reintegrate upon release. However the importance of legal assistance for prisoners to retain and access housing is often overlooked.

This paper focuses on the use of legal advocacy to access and retain housing for prisoners through Homeless Law’s specialised Debt and Tenancy Legal Help for Prisoners Project (the Project). This Project assists prisoners living in public or community housing to prevent their evictions into homelessness as well as addressing outstanding housing debts that create a barrier to being offered public housing upon release from prison. How can legal and non-legal services work together to create a holistic service and ensure that prisoners do not exit prison into homelessness? How can a human rights focussed approach help sustain housing for prisoners and inform reforms?

Samantha Sowerwine
Justice Connect
Principal Lawyer, Homeless Law

Biography: Sam is the principal lawyer of Homeless Law at Justice Connect. She runs the Debt and Tenancy Legal Help for Prisoners Project in collaboration with pro bono partners and partners in the community sector. She has previously worked at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Victoria Legal Aid and the Mental Health Legal Centre.

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