Housing Status Affects Frequency of Criminal Activity and Substance Use

Housing Status Affects Frequency of Criminal Activity and Substance Use
Alese Wooditch, Mary Mbaba, Marissa Kiss, William Lawson, Faye Taxman, Frederick L. Altice
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Is there a connection between housing instability, criminal activity, and substance use among people with a history of opioid dependence and criminal justice system involvement? And can housing assistance and supports generate positive outcomes for opioid-dependent, justice-involved people? Prior research suggests that the answer in both cases is yes. But the existing literature has mainly evaluated housing stability and substance use, without considering justice system involvement, and has considered limited types of housing situations. To better understand the connection, a study in Washington, DC, recruited 504 opioid-dependent adults with a history of justice system involvement to provide 30 days of data on various housing, substance use, and criminal behavior factors.

Using a method known as 30-day timeline followback, participants self-reported their number of drug use days (excluding marijuana use), criminal activity days (noting whether the crime was obtaining drugs), estimated daily alcohol consumption, number of residences, and number of days spent in each type of housing. The researchers defined the housing types as follows: stable housing (further segmented into at home, with a relative, or with friends), regulated transitional housing (segmented into halfway houses or homeless shelters with behavioral rules), homeless, or institutional housing (segmented into jail or prison or drug treatment facility). Participants were mostly unmarried, African American men with long histories of opioid use. The mean age was 52 years old, and mean length of heroin use was 23 years.

Key findings

  • 3 percent of participants reported at least one transition in their housing during the 30-day window.
  • Participants reported the highest number of drug use days while homeless (28.3) or at home (25.3), but alcohol use was not significantly different between housing types.
  • Participants were less likely to report engaging in criminal behavior on days when they were in a shelter or institutional housing and were most likely to engage on days when they were homeless.
  • Excluding drug buys, participants who were homeless were significantly more likely to engage in criminal behavior with an average of 16.2 days.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, participants with no change in their housing type were more likely to report criminal activity aside from drug buys. The researchers recommend further work to understand whether social ties might explain this finding.
  • Participants living in regulated transitional housing used drugs fewer days, but alcohol consumption was unchanged.