ReEntry program hears from regional colleagues

HUDSON–Housing options for people leaving incarceration dominated the ReEntry Columbia Task Force meeting May 8. Transportation and jobs also received attention. ReEntry Columbia helps people adjust to life after incarceration.

Guest speakers included Scott Mendelson and Erica Gallagher of Community Housing Innovations (CHI), Jamel Massey of the Exodus Transitional Community, and Charles Figel of the state Department of Corrections.

Mr. Massey said that without housing, a released person is likely to go back to prison.

CHI—with offices in White Plains and Patchogue—provides emergency housing, transitional housing and permanent housing, along with supportive services, for individuals and families who have problems obtaining or keeping housing. These include people with criminal records. Emergency housing includes the most services and supervision, permanent housing the least.

Mr. Mendelson is director of Hudson Valley programs for CHI, which provide residences in Dutchess and Orange counties.

Ms. Gallagher is case manager for one such program: a building on Rose Street in Poughkeepsie. The Rose Street facility, with 3 stories, has parts for each of the three housing types. The emergency housing part has 10 beds. Other parts have sections consisting of 4 bedrooms around a shared kitchen and bathroom. The house has surveillance cameras, and CHI plans to hire more staff to get it covered 24/7.

But Mr. Mendelson said, “You don’t know who’s staff and who’s resident.” One tenant took care of the Rose house so well, that “we decided to hire him” as a maintenance man for Rose and additional CHI facilities.

In addition, Mr. Mendelson said that most of the clients “have not done parole violations in the house. Very few have been thrown out.”

The local Social Services Department usually pays daily for emergency and transitional housing, and “works with CHI to determine the rate,” Mr. Mendelson said.

In helping clients, “the hardest thing is the job search,” said Ms. Gallagher. For jobs, one is supposed to look for and must fill out applications for jobs online, but “parolees aren’t allowed to use computers.” So counselors focus on more do-able services: mental health, substance abuse treatment and anger management. “Things go well when we have the right staff,” she said.

Rose Street and CHI’s other Dutchess and Orange County facilities take only residents of the counties they are in, Mr. Mendelson later confirmed. For Columbia County to get such a facility, it would have to establish one inside the county.

Robert Gibson, Columbia County commissioner of Social Services, asked how “the neighborhood” reacted to the Rose Street house. Mr. Mendelson replied that to find a location for the residence, “I looked at one of the worst streets.” At first, “our guys sat on the porch and watched everybody else get arrested.” Eventually, the other houses were torn down. With what remains of the neighborhood, “we develop a relationship. Neighbors donate to us,” Mr. Mendelson said.

The Exodus Transitional Community provides mentorship, case management and workforce development for people integrating into their communities after incarceration. “One of the most transformative days was when I met my mentor,” Mr. Massey said. People who have been incarcerated and now want to stay free make good mentors. Still, “as we focus on the end game, we must also do the prevention game,” discouraging people from doing something that will cause their first imprisonment.

Mr. Massey said that re-entry has three phases: pre-release, release and post-release–with post-release beginning “not when you’re done with prison but when you’re through with the criminal justice system.”

Laurie Scott, executive director of ReEntry Columbia, said, “We have guys working off the books. I feel they’re being taken advantage of.”

“First advice, don’t quit,” said Mr. Massey. “We can use it to build a resume.”

“We would like to see ReEntry staffed by someone like you,” Ms. Scott told him.

Mr. Mendelson called transportation the “primary challenge” in Newburgh. In addition, Mr. Figel reported, “I have clients in Schenectady who bike to Albany for work, because there’s no public transportation.” All the more reason to donate bicycles to ReEntry Columbia for its clients, said Ms. Scott. In her opinion of the Department of Social Services has improved since she began with ReEntry. However, “there are sections of the community we aren’t connecting with. Young people. Black people. How do we connect to the community? Holding a street barbeque?”

ReEntry is looking for a case manager to work about 24 hours a week to replace Carolyn Polikarpus, who is retiring in July.

Mr. Mendelson said that Orange County has the “unique advantage” of still having rooming houses.

The next meeting of the ReEntry Columbia Task Force will take place Wednesday, July 10, at 10 a.m. at 325 Columbia Street.

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