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New directory points ex-offenders in the right direction

Humboldt Park ranks third in a category that any Chicago community area would find challenging to manage: those with the highest rates of formerly incarcerated citizens returning to the neighborhood.

But the NCP quality of life planning process led by Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. did not shy away from this challenge, putting into place the NCP Reentry Coalition to work on efforts to help that population re-assimilate and find gainful employment and a stable, productive lifestyle.

Photo: Christy Prahl

The NCP Reentry Coalition, developed as part of the quality of life planning process in Humobldt Park, released the reentry services directory at a training and networking session in March (for more on that, please click here).

In March, the coalition took its first major step in this process, releasing the 2012 Reentry Services Inventory and Agency Directory, which provides both a color-coded service grid with everything from housing to job training and a service directory with information on providers in each category, designed to facilitate referrals. In all, the manual covers six categories--employment services, emergency services, mentoring, transition housing, youth and family, and mental and physical health--and provides profiles of 23 service providers.

The directory addresses “a real and present need to coordinate services for the formerly incarcerated in Humboldt Park,” says Christy Prahl, NCP director for Bickerdike. “As one of the communities with the highest rates of return from the prison system in Illinois, we consider it imperative to bolster our network and augment service options wherever possible. Only by coordinating and promoting these services community-wide will the transition for ex-offenders be streamlined, giving them the best chance to contribute positively to society and avoid recidivism.”

Although initially released in print form, the directory soon will evolve into an online instrument, hopefully later this year, so that it can be updated cheaply and in real time, says Ellen Ray, program director at Humboldt Park Social Services, the lead agency on the project, which received a $7,000 seed grant from LISC Chicago.

Photo: Christy Prahl

The directory has been released in printed form but soon will be released as an online instrument, so it can be updated in real-time.

“The need is great, and the ambition to address the issue is great,” she says. “We’re thinking through how we can translate what we have now into a digital medium, which has a lot of congruity with what Bickerdike is doing through the Smart Communities Program and the Humboldt Park Portal. We’re hoping to have it online, where people can identify their needs, click through and find an organization that meets their needs.”

Prahl credits the modest seed grant from LISC “and a tremendous amount of sweat equity” in launching the several-year project “to collect, assemble and distribute reentry service information in a user-friendly format, building a referrals network in the process. We truly believe that only by working together will we bridge the gaps created by insufficient funding and disproportionate need, where the demand for services far exceeds the supply.”

The directory provides an exhaustive list of resources based on a plethora of experience in working with the formerly incarcerated and deep knowledge of the wraparound services they need—such as mental health, family reunification, child support, and public benefits applications, Ray says The potential referrals should help to build solid relationships with parole officers, she says.

Employment services are just one of six categories covered in the directory, which also includes emergency services, mentoring, transition housing, youth and family, and mental and physical health, with 23 agencies listed in all.

“It’s the nuances of what somebody who is returning deals with that are often most difficult to problem-solve around,” she says. “It gave them an opportunity to know who else on the ground is doing this work, and who they might be able to connect them to. It’s often not what you would think about that can be pivotal, like having professional clothing” for a job interview.

The agencies involved in the coalition originally contemplated a more ambitious project to actively coordinate referral and service delivery but realized those in the room were already stretched to capacity, Ray says. “The coalition formed in large part out of that discussion, in thinking through as a community what solutions were available,” she says. “The directory was a way to make progress on the goal of comprehensive service delivery.”

A recently completed survey showed that 13 organizations are actively using the grid, a median number of six to 10 times, with 21 times being the highest. “We’re really excited about that,” Ray says. Respondents cited emergency care and employment services as the most frequent need. “The other thing it’s really highlighted was the dearth of services for people who have offenses that require registry on the sex offender registry,” she says. “Our next step to get into hands of parole resource unit and talk about how they can use it.”

“We’re already seeing good results from our efforts and hope to expand this project as we move forward, making the information directly accessible to the formerly incarcerated through the Humboldt Park Portal,” Prahl adds.

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Employment, Crime/safety, Ex-offenders

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