DYCD Shelters Provide Crucial Services to Young People

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As New York City continues to contend with an historic homelessness crisis, the agency tasked with serving homeless youth has gradually increased its shelter capacity, providing temporary accommodations for hundreds of teens and young adults.

Advocates and some local lawmakers, including Speaker Corey Johnson, say there is much more the city can do to help so-called “runaway and homeless youth” find shelter and access permanent housing, however.

The Department of Youth and Community Development now operates 753 shelter beds for young people between ages 16 and 20 across the city, a 22 percent increase from the beginning of the last fiscal year, and a 500-bed increase over what existed when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014. DYCD has opened another 25 beds for young adults ages 21 to 24, with 35 more beds — for a total of 60 — funded but not yet available for young adults in need of a place to stay.

“We’ve reached a point where any young person shows up and needs a bed, we can find a bed,” says DYCD Commissioner Bill Chong. “No 16- to 20-year-old has to go to an adult bed in a [Department of Homeless Services] shelter.”

The City Council has pushed the de Blasio administration to expand shelter services and capacity for young people experiencing homelessness, an issue once again in current budget negotiations.

The DYCD shelters provide crucial services to young people during a developmental phase psychologists refer to as “emerging adulthood.” The youth shelters offer life skills training, job coaching and guidance as basic as reminding teens to zip their coats before heading outside.

“I have learned how to actually cook and that is one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received because you need to learn how to cook to be independent,” says Q, a 20-year-old aspiring physician who stays in one of five Lighthouse youth shelters run by the organization CORE Services Group. “It’s great to have a place where I can leave my clothes at and have a place to go to sleep and wake up refreshed and ready.”

Q, who asked not to use her last name, says she has stayed at five other shelters over the past 15 months. None of the adult settings provided the services she needed to succeed, she says.

CORE’s Lighthouse residence are among 495 DYCD-funded Transitional Independent Living beds, which allow people under 21 to stay for up to two years. Another 258 Crisis Service Programs beds enable young people to stay for up to 120 days.

“I never had a connection with my family so being at Lighthouse was home to me,” says Denise, another 20-year-old CORE client. “They cared for me. They wanted to see me do better.”

Despite the increase in beds for young people experiencing homelessness, there is still a significant need for age-appropriate shelter in New York City.

The city’s 2019 point-in-time homeless youth count identified at least 7,374 homeless young people ages 24 and under, with 97 percent staying in shelters, most operated by the Department of Homeless Services.

An untold number of young people experience homelessness without seeking shelter from city agencies like DYCD or DHS. They spend their nights “doubled up” with friends or other associates — crashing on a couch in an apartment where their name does not appear on the lease or exchanging sex for a place to sleep, for example.

A January report on the state of New York City homelessness by Johnson and Council Social Services Committee Chair Stephen Levin calls on the city to add even more short-term crisis service and longer-term TIL beds, which provide a home-like environment for young people.

The two councilmembers have also recommended creating 40 new beds for homeless young people ages 21 to 24, “since there are already reports of waiting lists” for the 60 beds that have not yet opened.” DYCD says the agency is assessing demand as the new beds for 21- to 24-year-olds open.

The report’s ultimate goal is to move young people from shelter to permanent housing. Johnson and Levin both support enabling people in DYCD shelters to access city housing vouchers that pay rent for a year at privately owned apartments.

“We need to take immediate steps to provide appropriate services and supports that enable people to exit homeless shelters more quickly and easily, or avoid them in the first place,” Johnson and Levin write in the report, titled “The Case for Change.”

Access to vouchers is also a major focus for advocates, especially as the Council and mayor engage in budget negotiations.

“They should immediately provide homeless youth relying on DYCD programs access to local rental subsidies like CityFHEPS, including those young people who only access drop-in sites, as well as priority access to NYCHA and Section 8 vouchers,” says Craig Hughes, a social work supervisor at the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Project who is writing a doctoral dissertation on the city’s history of youth homelessness.

Hughes says the city should also allow young people who rely on DYCD services to have access to units set-aside for homeless New Yorkers in Housing Preservation and Development-funded apartment buildings.

Chong, the DYCD commissioner, says his agency also supports access to vouchers, though he would not say when that could become a reality.

“That’s one of the recommendations from ‘Turning the Tide,‘“ Chong says, referring to Mayor de Blasio’s plan for addressing homelessness. “We’re working with DHS and [the Human Resources Administration] to figure out eligibility and what’s the best way to execute it.

“I think the city has said we’ll do it but the question is working out all the details,” he adds. “But it’s not within my control.”

DYCD also cannot control the opening of the new beds for young adults between ages 21 and 24, Chong says.

The state Office of Children and Family Services regulates youth shelter space, size and location, which inhibits DYCD’s flexibility to open new sites, Chong says. At the same time, however, the state has not provided new funding to expand programs.

“This is the irony: we’re regulated by the state and they say how we should do it, but they don’t provide any money,” Chong says.

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Date: February 6, 2020
Author: David Brand

The 2019 McSilver Awards

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Each year, the McSilver Awards recognizes outstanding individuals who are transforming systems to address the needs of individuals, families, and communities living in poverty, locally and globally. This year’s McSilver Awards were held at the Rosenthal Pavilion, the top floor of the NYU Kimmel Center for University Life.

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Formerly Incarcerated People Face a Tough Journey Home

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Try to imagine what freedom must be like for many prisoners who’ve been released after serving sentences of 10, 15 or 20 years behind bars.

Sure, there is the initial sense of elation among some of the men and women about the prospect of a second chance in society. But that elation frequently gives way to frustration, dismay and even fear over how to begin picking up the pieces of their shattered lives.

Indeed, the questions and obstacles they face can be overwhelming. Will they ever find a job, especially if they lack the skills employers need? What about affordable housing? And where will they find money to pay for food and transportation?

Then there are all the societal changes, starting with the disappearance of transit tokens, not to mention the array of other new technologies, including smartphones, social media platforms, video streaming, e-readers, GPS devices and tablets. These technologies are often dizzyingly unfamiliar to individuals who in many cases went to prison at a time when the lowly flip phone was a high technological achievement. And yet being able to use these technologies-from Microsoft Word for a resume to LinkedIn for job searching -is critical.

Thousands of ex-convicts face this reality in communities across the country, from Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta and Miami to Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles. To hear these sort of coming home stories is the first step to understand the daunting journey undertaken by these individuals — often unsuccessfully — to rebuild their lives and re-establish ties to family, friends and community after prison.

With tens of thousands of prisoners being released each year from jails and prisons across the country, experts agree that a major test on the journey home for these individuals is navigating rocky shoals of the transition between prison and society. Will they be productive citizens, or will they engage in a repeat offense and return to prison? Or will they end up homeless in the streets — or worse?

Ex-convicts continue to pay after release

How to help ease the transition for inmates returning home has become part of the growing national debate on reforming the criminal justice system at a time when critics say it has incarcerated a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic men while focusing on punishment rather than rehabilitation.

That debate is playing out in Washington, D.C.’s predominantly Black Ward 5, where a proposal to open a residential reentry facility for ex-prisoners has provoked a not-in-my-backyard furor. It has also sparked a larger discussion about the need for programs that confront systemic needs of ex-convicts-including providing housing, job training or drug treatment-while helping them work through the psychological issues that returning home can provoke.

At the center of this debate is CORE DC, a minority-owned, social-services group seeking to open a residential reentry center in Ward 5. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on Nov. 1, 2018, awarded CORE DC the contract to open a 300-bed center and the facility was scheduled to start taking in residents on March 1 of this year.

But plans were put on hold amid concerns from some community members. The delay dealt a blow to efforts to address the pressing needs of former inmates returning home with what CORE DC and supporters say is the organization’s humane approach to helping the former prisoners assimilate into a society with obsolete notions of crime and punishment.

“How do you genuinely engage in criminal justice reform when you still have ancient and outdated attitudes?” CORE DC chairman and CEO Jack Brown said. “These are the kind of monsters under the bed that CORE has to deal with. If you have an organization that is providing these services and their reputation is questionable, of course the community should have concerns. But that is not what the community is getting with CORE.”

Lingering concerns about past service providers

The only reentry center in Washington, D.C., today is Hope Village, located in Southeast. Opened in the late 1970s, it has faced criticism in the past on issues ranging from the treatment of residents to its security practices. In a 53-page 2013 memo, the independent agency in charge of monitoring conditions inside of District correctional facilities found that Hope Village lacked “job readiness resources” and substandard care for residents with mental health needs. In 2016, a nonprofit criminal justice advocacy group called the Council for Court Excellence implored the BOP to end its contract with Hope Village.

When Northeast Washington residents got word that a new reentry center would open in Ward 5, some expressed reservations. Chief among their questions was whether CORE DC’s reentry home would be a good neighbor, a concern that seemingly reflected lingering concerns the community had from past experiences.

In fact, just weeks after CORE DC’s Ward 5 project was announced, two former Hope Village residents who had escaped and committed crimes were sentenced to prison, one for a 27-month term and the other for 33 months. The episode seemed to fuel falsehoods and misconceptions about the indispensable role that experts say transitional services such as temporary housing and job training have in ensuring former inmates have the tools needed for a second chance.

As the drip-drip of troubling reports coming out of Southeast Washington cast a dark shadow over a possible new reentry center in Northeast Washington, CORE DC reached out to local lawmakers while the organization’s leadership joined community hearings convened to address questions surrounding the planned facility.

CORE DC says it hoped to provide facts and clarity to the discussion.

“At our facilities, the program director is in daily communication with Bureau of Prisons,” Brown said. “Most people in the community believe you get to hang out from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m at outside of the center, not at CORE. We don’t see too many program failures because our clients have jobs that we work with them to get in the construction industry, technology sector and other livable wage jobs.”

But dialogue has sometimes been elusive — and sometimes heated.

Halfway houses — a loaded term

At one community meeting, a pamphlet was left behind that warned of the grave dangers of “halfway houses,” a term that those in the criminal-justice world say is outdated and filled with a negative connotation. “Halfway houses accept sex offenders, drug offenders, convicted murders and rapists,” the pamphlet read. A group of 12 Northeast residents sued, and on Dec. 21, CORE DC lost its lease on the property.

There is also the fact that Hope Village, which has won more than $125 million in federal contracts since 2006, filed a protest against the BOP contract with CORE DC. The protest, filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), leveled a number of charges, including that Hope Village lost the contract because it refused to take in sex offenders. In a decision made on Feb. 21, the GAO dismissed Hope Village’s highly charged claim, while raising technical questions about CORE DC’s use of the property it proposed for its center.

CORE DC said that it remains committed to the D.C. area.

“We remain committed to reunifying the families and restoring the communities that these individuals leave behind,” Brown said, “But in order to address these complicated issues, the community deserves a productive, fact-driven dialogue, not falsehoods and fear-mongering.”

In recent weeks, CORE Services Group, of which CORE DC is an affiliate, has invited Ward 5 leaders to tour other reentry centers the organization operates. The nonprofit, founded in 2005, has invited local representatives to a reentry center in Brooklyn, New York, where security standards have been lauded in routine reviews by the BOP.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the community will embrace CORE DC as a new neighbor. But with an estimated 8,000 former inmates returning home to Washington every year, advocates say reentry centers are a proven part of the solution, even as they caution that the District, just like communities around the country, need a comprehensive approach.

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Date: March 25, 2019
Author: Rachel Holloway

Reentry Centers Play a Crucial Role in Helping Ex-Inmates

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Despite a hot jobs market, Washington and the nation are confronting a quiet employment crisis: legions of formerly incarcerated individuals who have little or no hope of becoming productive members of society because of fears, prejudices and other barriers they face to entering the workforce.

If anyone has doubts about the scale of the problem, consider this: More than 8,000 ex-offenders return home to Washington annually, at a time when the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals is estimated by some to be as high as 27 percent nationally.

We all have an interest in providing them the kind of support to enable them to return to the workforce. Without it, they face the possibility of slipping into despair and homelessness — or back in prison. This support includes safe and secure housing as well as vocational training.

This is where socially responsible reentry centers — also called halfway houses, a term loaded with baggage — can make a difference. The mission of reentry centers is to provide job training, housing, transportation and other temporary support for these individuals, a group that is disproportionately made up of black and Hispanic men. The centers also provide strict rules, constant monitoring and compassionate counseling on deeply personal issues.

The centers also help these men with the challenge of readjusting to a world that has changed dramatically since they were sent to prison years earlier. Consider that a man released after serving 20 years in prison may never have used a personal computer or seen a smartphone and be bewildered by smart TVs, Metro cards and parking meters that issue receipts. It is not surprising, then, that roughly 43 percent of District residents who are on parole, probation or supervised release are unemployed.

Policymakers ought to take a hard look at what some — though not all — reentry centers have been quietly doing to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the formerly imprisoned, their families and communities.

I draw from years of experience as the president of CORE Services Group, a human services and community development organization. Our organization operates residential reentry centers that specialize in providing housing and targeted skills training. In addition, we work with our clients to help them develop a sense of self-worth.

Even though reentry centers are a pathway to successful transitions, discussions about their role too often become mired in rumor and falsehood. Not because people are narrow-minded and callous. Rather, the issues are complex and easily confused or distorted. Fear takes hold, and misimpressions become truth. At least this has been my experience.

Regrettably, this dynamic is playing out to some degree in Ward 5 in Northeast Washington, where CORE’s proposal to open a transitional reentry center has stalled after community concerns were raised. In November 2018, CORE was awarded a Federal Bureau of Prisons contract to open a reentry center in Ward 5, but the project is now in jeopardy. Good people — well-meaning people — are upset. Perhaps shedding a little light on this subject will help allay some of the concerns.

Let’s start here. As I said, the men (only about 7 percent of federal inmates are women) coming out of prison and into reentry centers are largely black and Hispanic. Though they have been relegated to society’s margins, they are not strangers: They are our sons, brothers and fathers. The job of reentry centers is literally to welcome them home.

The CORE curriculum has been tested and refined over two decades. Upon arrival, residents complete a comprehensive assessment. Based on the results, they are paired with case managers and social services coordinators who guide development of an individualized reentry plan. Residents enroll in workshops ranging from résumé-writing and interviewing skills to how to knot a tie and use the Internet. When they are ready, residents work closely with full-time job-placement specialists who help them secure meaningful employment at local businesses.

Study after study has demonstrated that just two factors — safe and secure housing, and living-wage employment — predict long-term success for previously incarcerated individuals.

To best serve its residents, the District needs a comprehensive approach capable of providing these men the vocational skills they need, open access to a broad array of health-care services, and supports to reunify families and address other challenges.

Until we do this, our neighborhoods will be disrupted by high levels of recidivism and cycles of crime and punishment and broken families. This is the inevitable result of a society that fails to temper justice with mercy and common sense.

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Date: March 8, 2019
Author: Jack Brown

Helping Former Inmates Transition to Life Outside Prison is Key to Criminal Justice Reform

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The recent unease in northeast Washington, D.C., around a proposed transitional reentry center for formerly incarcerated individuals has raised understandable questions about the societal role of such transitional centers. While the project is now stalled, concerns voiced by some Ward 5 residents deserve to be addressed — especially because D.C. is well-positioned to lead the nation’s efforts to grapple with an array of criminal justice challenges.

To be sure, a single program cannot on its own solve problems that have been generations in the making, including high recidivism rates, the spiraling costs of corrections programs, overcrowded prisons, mass incarcerations and criminal-justice policies that disproportionately punish Black and Hispanic men andseparate them from their families and communities. But ignoring the problem — or looking for others to solve it — will most certainly not improve things.

Jack Brown
CORE CEO Jack Brown

I have a responsibility, both personal and professional, to clearly explain what reentry centers — like the one at the center of this debate — are all about. I am the chief executive officer of CORE, the organization that proposed the center in northeast Washington. Mission-driven, our organization helps former inmates, homeless families, runaway youth and others transform their lives for the better by providing structured, transitional housing and access to critical social and supportive services.

For more than 20 years, CORE’s senior leadership has been empowering its clients, many of them men, face the daunting task of returning to their communities. These men — who are fathers, brothers and sons — require assistance to reenter the workforce, establish independence, reunite with family and regain their self-respect. With the help of case managers and social services coordinators, our residents participate in a comprehensive assessment and develop a reentry plan. Residents are also paired with full-time job placement specialists who help them secure livable wages and meaningful employment.

Our life and transitional skills coaches work with residents to adjust to many of the significant changes their communities — and society as a whole — have undergone during their incarceration. The challenges these men confront include having to adapt to new societal and cultural norms, as well as needing to learn new technologies and getting around communities that may no longer seem familiar.

Guided by our belief that employment and permanent housing are the twin keys to long-term success and preventing recidivism, we offer workshops ranging from resume-writing and interviewing skills to how to knot a tie and use the Internet.

This round-the-clock support helps clients make significant strides. Through it, clients pick up tools for managing everything from personal relationships to their finances.

Our commitment to values-centered support is backed by our lengthy experience. And it can have a truly extraordinary impact, such as when an estranged father reunites with his children.

Despite CORE’s track record of achieving such outcomes for former inmates, we know that some Ward 5 residents have asked what a reentry center would mean for them and their neighborhood.

Unfortunately, misinformation and falsehoods have circulated and stood in the way of a fruitful dialogue with members of the community who had questions about public safety.

While I cannot speak to the security conditions at transitional reentry centers operated by other providers, I can proudly assure you that CORE works tirelessly to achieve the absolute highest standards of security. In fact, our New York City facility has been lauded in regular reviews by Federal Bureau of Prisons for the high quality of our community relations and CORE’s success in “maintaining accountability of the residents.”

CORE also appreciates the need to provide transportation assistance to our clients. This is a vital component of our services. In Washington, CORE vans will ferry residents back and forth from Metro stops. 

Simply put, we take our commitment to be a good neighbor very seriously. CORE identified northeast Washington as an appropriate location for one of our programs for several reasons, including that many of the individuals who would be housed there are from the D.C. region. They deserve the opportunity to return home with support and dignity.

We believe that Ward 5 has the opportunity to set a powerful example of community corrections done right, curbing recidivism by combining CORE’s rigorous yet compassionate transitional support initiatives.

Finally, transitional reentry centers bring a socioeconomic benefit to the communities they serve, by facilitating the transition from inmate to stable, wage-earning members of their families and communities.

CORE welcomes the opportunity to continue this critically important conversation with the people of Ward 5.

Jack Brown is chief executive officer of CORE Services Group.

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Date: January 14, 2019
Author: Jack Brown

CORE Participated in Sending 160 Girls to See “Wrinkle In Time”

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Believe Women and PopLife ENT presents a free screening of the theatrical release of “A Wrinkle In Time” for 100 female students from 4 Brooklyn, NY schools: PS 9 (Prospect Heights), PS 384 (Bushwick), IS 392 (Brownsville), East NY Middle  School of Excellence (East New York). Welcome speech and film introduction provided by Cori Murray, Entertainment Director, ESSENCE and Co-Host, Yes, Girl! Podcast.

Additional sponsorship is provided by CORE Services Group, compliments of CEO, Jack Brown III, whose mission lies in advancing community programs. Presenters, Believe Women and PopLife know the positive impact that experiences like these have on the youth saying “It is crucial to provide opportunities to our
young girls, to view positive images and an uplifting story that can provide a feeling of empowerment and pride in themselves.”

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Going Home: A ThriveNYC Story

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In November 2015, First Lady Chirlane McCray rolled out ThriveNYC, an action plan to change the way we think about mental health and the way we deliver services, to address the challenges with the current mental health system and to bring more services, better services, and services that are easier to access to the highest need areas around the City. DHS and ThriveNYC have launched an initiative to place Licensed Masters’-level Social Workers (LMSWs) in shelters serving Families with Children as a part of ThriveNYC. CORE partnered with the Department of Homeless Services to profile the work of CORE’s Client Care Coordinator at the MacDonough Family Residence shelter. “

It has been my pleasure to be a part of this in representation of CORE Services Group.” – Melissa Koppenhafer, LMSW, Client Care Coordinator

Judicial Delegation from Abu Dhabi

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On February 10, 2017, CORE Services Group hosted a Judicial Delegation from Abu Dhabi including His Excellency Chancellor Yousef Alebri, Undersecretary of Abu Dhabi’s Judicial Department, His Excellency Chancellor Ali Mohammed Albelooshi Attorney General of Abu Dhabi, His Excellency Chancellor Ali Aldhaheri , Director of the Judicial Inspection Division, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, and Dr. Salah Aljunaibi, and Director of Communication and International Cooperation, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.



Women’s March

On Saturday, January 21, the voices of women around the nation were heard. CORE women let their voices be heard and came together to support human, social and economic justice for all in poster making session.

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