People of Housing Security:
Assistant Director of New Leaf, New Life uses personal experience to help residents returning from incarceration
Stacy Flynn knows what it’s like to feel marginalized — and to overcome challenges.
Now the Assistant Director of New Leaf, New Life, Stacy struggled with substance use when she was younger, and moved to Bloomington after being released from incarceration. She was looking for a new start and a more positive environment. When she discovered New Leaf, New Life, “I felt like I found my people.”
The Bloomington nonprofit provides support and services for people incarcerated or recently released from jail or prison. Stacy initially volunteered with New Leaf, New Life, then in early 2019 got a job there as volunteer coordinator.
“I really had no idea my lived experience could provide me with skills to do any sort of job,” she said. “That gave me some hope about myself, and that I still had something to offer.”
As she gained confidence with the support of staff and board members, she faced other challenges. Even with a living wage, it was difficult to find housing she could afford. She lived for a couple of years in co-op housing. Because that was extremely affordable, she could save money, buy a car and get some dental work done — basic things that would have been hard to do if her rent had been higher. She now rents a house on the outskirts of town.
Her personal experience helps Stacy as she works with other New Leaf, New Life staff and volunteers on a variety of supports for people who are transitioning back into the community. At their office, called the Transition Support Center, they receive letters from prisons and jails throughout Indiana and even in other states. They average 175-200 letters each month. “We respond to every single letter that we receive,” Stacy said.
New Leaf, New Life also facilitates re-entry by providing in-person classes at the Monroe County jail. If someone can’t attend a class, the agency provides resources in written form. They help secure personal documentation, including birth certificates and IDs, and provide information about transitional housing and sober living programs.
Another service is the Re-entry Workbook and Community Resource Guide, which is posted on the New Leaf, New Life website. That information is specifically for the Monroe County area.
This kind of support is vital, given the challenges that people face after being released. “A criminal record can be one of the biggest barriers to someone who has already experienced the trauma of incarceration,” Stacy said. “You have ongoing barriers that never go away.”
For people with a criminal history, finding housing and employment are extremely difficult. Most rental housing requires a background check, for example. “It almost makes you feel like you aren’t good enough, or that you don’t deserve a place to live,” Stacy said. “It doesn’t matter how long ago or how well I’ve been doing, I will always be judged for that.”
Many employers also ask if a job applicant has a felony record. If you have to check that box, the chances of getting a job are lowered.
If you secure your housing and employment, you actually have a decent chance of success. That can play a huge part in whether or not somebody makes it.
– Stacy Flynn
Because of these challenges, Stacy believes that New Leaf, New Life is a crucial resource. She wants people to know that it’s okay to ask for help. “That is what we’re here for.” A lot of people have been told “no” over and over, she added, so to hear someone say “Yes, we can help” is powerful.
Addressing the stigma of incarceration, Stacy hopes that people with the power to provide housing or a job can base their decisions not just on someone’s history, but “based on the person that they are today.”
“People are able to change,” Stacy said. “Everyone is deserving of housing, regardless of what has happened in their past. Consider what they’ve had to overcome to get to this point. Everyone deserves a chance.”
With a Heading Home grant provided by the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, New Leaf, New Life helped 49 people secure housing over the past year. Only three of those 49 people have been re-incarcerated, Stacy noted, which equates to roughly a 6% recidivism rate.
“If you secure your housing and employment, you actually have a decent chance of success,” Stacy said. “That can play a huge part in whether or not somebody makes it.”
About the People of Housing Security: This series highlights the work of those committed to improving the lives of residents in South Central Indiana. Find all the articles in this series here.