Transition homes, sometimes called halfway houses, can mean a lot to people who were recently incarcerated and have been released. Not only do these places provide shelter, as many who are released will be homeless when they get out, but they also provide guidance for how to reenter society.
However, in Texas, state-funded homes have long waiting lists and the majority of nonprofit transition homes are connected to Christian groups. But what if you’re of a different faith?
Khawla Nakua is a freelance criminal justice reporter who covers incarcerated Muslims and prison conditions. She spoke with Texas Standard about her latest article covering this issue in Scalawag Magazine. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript was edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us a bit about why you were inspired to look into this in the first place.
Khawla Nakua: So I was doing a lot of reporting on incarcerated Muslims and I was talking to a few activists in Texas and they sort of gave me the tip to look into transitional housing for Muslims or like, you know, look into reentering when you’re an incarcerated Muslim. And so she told me about these two Muslim men who both were incarcerated, both converted to Islam while they were in prison. Both sort of had an experience in a Christian homeless shelter and was in and out of homelessness and prison and wanted to create housing for Muslims that doesn’t allow them to sort of put their religion on the shelf and helps them through their religious and spiritual needs, but also through their housing needs.
You met someone who was almost turned away from a transition house because he was Muslim. Could you tell us about him and how that happened?
Yeah. So Baquee Sabur, he owns now a transitional housing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. When he first left prison, which was in the early nineties, he had an experience where he was temporarily disabled and couldn’t work and he then struggled to find housing. And so he had to sleep under a bridge for a night. And it was so traumatic for him to experience that, that he just decided not to ever have that opportunity to do it again. And so he found a homeless shelter. It was a Christian homeless shelter. And he recounts that they wouldn’t allow him to stay because he wasn’t that: “This is for Christians. We offer this for Christians and not for Muslims.” And he was like, “I don’t care, I could do whatever you want. They can’t even call the police because I’m just not going to experience sleeping under a bridge again.”
There’s just a lot of challenges to finding a home. And because a lot of transitional housing are Christian-based and they have, you know, programs that rely heavily on the Christian religion, Muslims who don’t follow that sometimes are pressured to follow that in order to stay in their homeless shelters, in their housing.
So tell us a little bit more about these two homes run by the Muslim men that you were talking about earlier, what they set up and where it is.
So Baquee Sabur, he has transitional housing in Dallas-Forth Worth. It’s technically a homeless shelter that helps everyone who’s experiencing homelessness, including incarcerated people. And then Joseph Clark has one in Houston that is mainly a transitional housing for incarcerated Muslims. They also do provide services for people outside of Islam. As of right now, he has like two Christians and one Muslim that’s staying at the house right now. So they did wanted to create a space that’s available for everybody. And yes, it is slightly tailored to Muslims, but they never want anybody of any type of religious faith to sort of put their religion on the shelves.
Well, now, I’m curious, does that mean that they then have similar programs to what some of these transitional spaces run by Christian groups have, just with Islam as its focus? Is that the way that that works, or are you able to go in and not participate in those sorts of programs?
You’re able not to participate. I know that with Joseph Clark’s transitional housing, he has sort of like an hour of spiritual, sort of, meditation or guide. And it can be like anything. For Muslims, they can pray and be centered on, but Christians can do like their own prayers or Bibles and even like, if they’re atheist, they could sort of do something that helps. So it’s not like following the Islamic religion. It’s still to help, you know, people of all religious groups.
What about Muslim women? Where can they go?
There’s very little housing that’s tailored for Muslim women. I know there’s a project right now to sort of build transitional housing for Muslim women once they left prison. But it’s almost impossible to find one. And that’s where they could also experience homelessness. And that just adds that layered of like gender and religion and race just adds. It’s just a whole new layer.
Where do you see this headed? I mean, are we going to see more transitional housing aimed at Muslim men and women in Texas? Or how would you characterize the demand for this?
I hope so. Muslims are a growing population in prison and there’s a very large population of Muslims in Texas. And so I really do hope that there is more transitional housing that helps Muslim women and men.