BY: ETHAN YUANCHEN LIU
On the morning after Thanksgiving of 2009, East Bronx was shrouded in an overcast packed with freezing air and gloominess, and the few bleary-eyed people idling on the streets were wearing sullen faces. The happiness in the world was stolen – by a woman, Lisa Michelle Rappa, 42 years old, with a new life to start.
Having spent more than 9 months in a homeless shelter after she was released from prison last year, Ms. Rappa finally got her apartment this September and had just moved in.
“This is a new life for me,” said Rappa. “I don’t have my apartment since I was 19, I’m 42 now,” she paused. “I hope more people find out about it, because it’s a blessing, it’s God-sent.”
Since her first incarceration at the age of 20, Rappa had spent over 20 years shuttling between prisons and shelters. “I really can’t remember how many times I was in jail,” she tried to recall for several seconds but gave up. “But you can check my rap sheet online – it’s 72 pages.”
As of October 13, the Coalition for the Homeless reported that the NYC Homeless Shelter Population had reached 22,628. Studies show that there is a substantial overlap between incarceration and homelessness. According to a 2006 survey by University of Pennsylvania, among 7,022 people staying in public shelters in New York City, almost 25 percent of them had been incarcerated within the previous two years. A 2008 report “Incarceration, Homelessness, and Health” by National Health Care for the Homeless Council concluded that people experiencing homelessness are arrested more often, incarcerated longer, and re-arrested at a higher rate than are people with stable housing.