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Housing

Counties Pledge to Break the Cycle Between Jail and Homelessness

With $20 million in MacArthur Foundation funding, four U.S. jurisdictions are exploring ways to make sure that brushes with the law don’t end up putting people on the street. 

A mural in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a grant designed to reduce homelessness will focus on the region’s jail population. 

A mural in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a grant designed to reduce homelessness will focus on the region’s jail population. 

Photographer: Dan Brouilette/Bloomberg

San Francisco and Sioux Falls might seem to share little beyond an abbreviation, but the cities wrestle with a common problem: homelessness. In the Bay Area, a persistently high unhoused population has long been a municipal crisis. But shelters are near capacity in South Dakota’s largest city, too, and the growing number of unhoused people on the streets has emerged as an issue in the current mayoral race.  

Now the two regions are set to test a new approach to controlling homelessness by targeting the link between housing instability and incarceration. An initiative called the Just Home Project, devised and funded by the MacArthur Foundation, and coordinated by the Urban Institute, will provide resources and technical assistance to four jurisdictions across the U.S. that struggle with different variations on the jail-to-homelessness cycle: South Carolina’s Charleston County, Oklahoma’s Tulsa County, South Dakota’s Minnehaha County, and the city and county of San Francisco. It’s seeded by a $5 million grant to support counties as they plan how to tackle their unique crises; another $15 million in impact investment from the MacArthur Foundation will go towards implementation, and acquiring or developing housing units in these jurisdictions.