The city’s re-entry program has a new name and a new agreement with the housing authority to provide one more incentive for a life on the right side of the law: a place to live.
The Board of Commissioners of the Housing Authority of New Haven voted at its regular meeting at 360 Orange St. last week to approve a memorandum of agreement to allow data-sharing between the city and the housing authority for the purpose of screening people who come through the newly named Warren Kimbro Reentry Project.
In October 2015, the city was one of only five U.S. cities to receive a $1 million “Second Chance Act” grant from the U.S. Justice Department to try over the next three years to cut its recidivism rate by half. Through a partnership between city and local agencies that serve the formerly incarcerated, the program is identifying and attempting to assess the needs of incarcerated men and women with New Haven addresses six to nine months before they are released.
The idea behind the program is to identify needs such as employment, education, physical and mental health, along with substance abuse and family reintegration help, before a person is released. And then hook them into programs and services that address these problems with hopes that it will set the person on a course to avoid returning to prison.
New Haven sees on average about 1,000 felons released back to the city every year. Man of those newly freed people need a place to live.
Clifton Graves, who heads the city’s reentry office, said that previous U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations made it hard for those with criminal records to obtain public housing, particularly if their crime involved a drug offense on public housing property.
“They were essentially banned,” he said.
But Graves said that just prior to President Obama’s administration HUD began to examine its rules and revise them to allow housing authorities to make some exception. He said some housing authorities didn’t embrace such allowances, but New Haven did.
And they’ve done it with success, said housing authority Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton.
The Warren Kimbro Reentry Project will be the third reentry-related partnership that the housing authority has entered into with the city. The first was with Project Fresh Start, which started out as a pilot of eight units within the authority’s portfolio of properties, set aside for the formerly incarcerated. That effort has since grown to 20 units. The second is a voucher-based program for those who meet certain benchmarks in Project Longevity.
“A memorandum of agreement has been drafted that outlines both the data sharing aspects and the participation aspects of this program similar to other reentry initiatives that we have done with Project Longevity and others,” DuBois-Walton said. “We will identify a number of vouchers that can be used for this population and the housing resource is typically one that is offered to people that have successfully completed other benchmarks in their reentry plan, so we see it as a positive combination with our existing reentry programs and seek to partner with the city in this way.”
DuBois-Walton said both the housing authority and the city consider the partnerships around reentry a success because those who have been through them aren’t evicted at any higher rate than tenants without criminal backgrounds, and the number of those who have received housing through the partnership who return to prison is very low.
Still to be worked out is how many vouchers could be set aside for those who come through the Warren Kimbro Reentry Project, Graves said.
It’s not every day that a city names what it hopes will be a model program after a former member of the Black Panther Party. That is exactly what New Haven did in naming its new reentry program after native son, the late Warren Kimbro.
Though Kimbro was famously tried and convicted of the murder of a fellow party member, he went on to serve his time and transform his life. He educated himself at Harvard and ran and expanded Project MORE, which is a named partner in the new project, into a model reentry program.
Graves said when the partners in the project, which include people from Project MORE, Easter Seals/Goodwill and the Community Action Agency of New Haven, put their heads together to think of a name, choosing Kimbro as the namesake just made sense.
“No better person symbolized the spirit of what a returning citizen should be and should aspire to better than Warren Kimbro,” he said. “We wanted to give the project a uniquely New Haven flavor and naming it after him captured the spirit and commitment we want to impart to the returning citizen.”
“I’ve got to believe he’s smiling upon us,” Graves added. “It’s an initiative that he would have endorsed and supported, though it doesn’t go as far as I’m sure he’d like.”
The $1 million grant is to be used to target between 250 and 300 incarcerated people over the next three years.