Utah Taskforce Helps Chronically Homeless Clear Petty Crime Records and Integrate Back into Society

By Michael Klazema on 8/12/2015
Like ex-criminal offenders, chronically homeless people are often the victims of scorn, rejection, and mistrust when they make the decision to try to integrate back into society. For homeless individuals with criminal records, even if those records are made up completely of petty crimes, finding a way to build a better life can be doubly challenging. Since ex-offenders and homeless people are both heavily stigmatized groups, someone who is both of those things at once can often be spurned when trying to become a contributing member of society once more.

In other words, such individuals are often stuck between a rock and a hard place, a situation that a recently established taskforce in Utah is looking to help fight. The Utah Homeless Taskforce was launched last year through a pilot program, designed to help the chronically homeless find housing and employment, and rebuild their lives. The program was largely aimed at assisting homeless people in clearly petty crimes from their records, according to a report from Fox 13 in Salt Lake City. Now, the pilot program is being extended for three more years, with the hope of having an even greater impact on these two oft-marginalized groups.

The task force's mission statement is tied to both criminal expungement and "ban the box" philosophy, two trends that have been making headlines in the background check industry as of late. Homeless people will occasionally commit petty crimes while living on the streets, from stealing food to riding on public transportation without paying for it, and those crimes can follow those individuals around for years after they have started to put their lives back together. One source interviewed in the aforementioned Fox 13 report, an operator of a homelessness halfway house, said that many of the people he works with have trouble finding employment simply because they have to check the box on the job application next to the "Do you have a criminal history?" question.

The Utah Homeless Taskforce was launched specifically to help such individuals. Formerly homeless people who are living in transition homes and making concentrated efforts to re-integrate back into society are eligible for the program. Those who are referred to the program receive help applying and making a case for criminal record expungement. So far, 97 individuals have been referred to the Utah Homeless Taskforce out of halfway homes across the state, and 22 of them have successfully had their records expunged.

Of course, not everyone is eligible for the program, and not all homeless individuals referred to the program will be successful in applying for expungement. Certain felony crimes can't be expunged under Utah law, while repeat offenders with a long list of convictions are less likely to be taken seriously. The Utah Homeless Taskforce, for instance, won't work with anyone with more than five convictions, simply because the likelihood of complete criminal record expungementis low in those cases.

According to the NELP, Utah is currently one of the few states in the country with no "ban the box" laws on the books, either for private or public employers, and either at the state level or in individual cities and counties. As a result, the Utah Homeless Taskforce is really the best option available right now to help formerly homeless individuals overcome past mistakes and find jobs or places to live. With that said, if legislation is introduced in the state to "ban the box" entirely, then the taskforce may not be needed anymore. In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens.


Tag Cloud
Recent Posts

Latest News

  • March 22 Countrywide, states and local municipalities have committed to ban the box legislation, seeking to equalize opportunities in the job market for those with criminal histories.
  • March 22

    Thinking about becoming a firefighter? Here are some of the background check requirements you might face.

  • March 20

    Four Department of Commerce employees are out after their background checks resulted in security clearance denials. All four had worked high-ranking positions for months despite incomplete background checks.

  • March 15 As more states legalize the recreational use of cannabis, they contend with the emergence of new industries surrounding marijuana cultivation and production. 
  • March 14 In most cases, it is easy to determine where an issue might show up on a pre-employment background check. Citations for traffic violations or reckless driving charges will appear on a motor vehicle record check. Verdicts in a civil court case will show on a civil court background check. And criminal convictions—from petty theft to violent felonies—show up on criminal background checks.
  • March 13 How many years back do employment background checks go? This question can have multiple different answers depending on the situation.
  • March 13 A new bill in Florida would require landlords of apartment complexes to present tenants with verifications of employee background checks to give them peace of mind the people working in and around their homes are trustworthy.
  • March 08 Police officers working with the University of Texas at Arlington recently arrested a man who had avoided police capture on a warrant out of Oregon for nearly two decades. The man, whose real name is Daniel Charles Ray Hanson, spent those 17 years using a variety of fake names and identification documents to move around the country, often engaging with educational institutions under false pretenses. Police say Hanson regularly went by at least three different aliases. He sports a rap sheet that stretches back to an arson conviction in 1995. 
  • March 07

    The Future of EEOC Guidance in Texas Is Up in the Air

    The EEOC issued guidance in 2012 warning employers about the dangers of enforcing categorical policies to bar candidates with criminal histories. That guidance is not enforceable in Texas thanks to a recent court ruling.

  • March 05 Vermont is the latest state to restrict employers’ access to and use of social media accounts of employees and applicants.