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Program Connects Released Prison Inmates With Welcoming Homes In East Bay

ALAMEDA COUNTY (KPIX) -- People who have been released from prison are ten times more likely to be homeless than the average person in the U.S., according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

An East Bay nonprofit has launched an innovative experiment to bring down those numbers that puts a twist on the AirBnB model.

DeLora is getting a fresh start after serving eight years in prison for conspiracy to distribute heroin.

"You want to feel normal, but on the inside, your heart is just racing," DeLora said.

Survival is like navigating an obstacle course. She had no job or stable home when she first was released.

"All of a sudden, I just purchase one meal for $20, and I barely have no money to my name," she explained. "You're overwhelmed. No one's really there to help you."

Today, the 32-year-old has a paid fellowship working in criminal justice reform. She has also found hope at the home of Sabina Crocette.

Their unique partnership is thanks to The Homecoming Project of Alameda County.

Crocette rents DeLora a bedroom in her Oakland house; in return, the project pays DeLora's rent- $775 dollars a month - for six months.

"I just saw her as a dynamic young women who could come back into the community and be a great resource to others," Crocette said.

The first-of-its-kind program is run by the nonprofit Impact Justice.

Founder Alex Busansky says it provides a supportive net for people who return to the community after long prison terms.

"Having a home is one of the key components of the first few hours, days and weeks of somebody's life," Busansky said. "You're seven times more likely to end up in prison if you don't have a home."

The Homecoming Project carefully matches former inmates who've done well in rehab with hosts like Crocette who has an open room and an open heart.

"You have to recognize people's humanity," Crocette explained. "People are not the thing that they have done. That is not who they are."

Several months in, the pilot program shows promise.

"The first person we put into a home is successfully leaving the home because he has a job and a paycheck, he can go get his own place," Busansky said.

Program organizers have discovered the hosts offer more than affordable housing.

"We didn't know that the hosts were going to be serving -- by proxy -- as a role model, showing them what it's like to live in the community," said Homecoming Project coordinator Terah Lawyer.

Crocette helps DeLora adjust to what many take for granted in normal, day-to-day life, like cooking and driving.

"In over eight years, it was my first time driving with Sabina. So how brave of her, right?" DeLora chuckled.

The two women's partnership has blossomed into friendship that supports DeLora's second chance at life. And while Crocette is a mentor for DeLora, DeLora has been a role model for Crocette's adult daughter as well.

The women say they feel blessed.

"It just makes you grateful," said Crocette.

"It's given me a chance to make it," beamed DeLora.

The Homecoming Project has already matched several former inmates with hosts. The program hopes to expand to house 25 former inmates by the end of the year.

But the project is looking for more hosts willing to rent a spare bedroom. Anyone interested in helping can contact the Homecoming Project via the program's website or by calling 510-256-7006.

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