Assisting the homeless and ex-offenders return to the workforce
NEW ORLEANS — The Downtown Development District (DDD) announced a new plan designed to help both homeless individuals and ex-offenders re-enter the workforce. The New Paths initiative includes two programs – Back In Stride and Second Chance.
“The DDD is excited to introduce these new programs,” said DDD President & CEO Kurt Weigle. “By creating opportunities for people to transform their own lives we can reduce recidivism, unemployment and homelessness. While each of these impacts individuals and families, we all pay in the form of higher taxes and decreased quality of life; so, it’s time to interrupt the cycle and the DDD welcomes the opportunity to play its part.”
The Back In Stride program is part of the DDD’s commitment to reducing and eventually ending homelessness. In addition to this new effort, the DDD has demonstrated this commitment by its long-time advocacy for permanent supportive housing, support for affordable housing Downtown, the hiring of a full-time homeless outreach worker as part of its Downtown/HOME partnership with the City of New Orleans, and current work on creating a low barrier homeless shelter.
The Second Chance program for ex-offenders is intended to provide employment opportunity for individuals who may normally be considered unemployable because of a felony conviction. The program will help remove barriers to employment for individuals that, based on a reasonable screening process, are not deemed a threat to public safety.
“Louisiana and the United States are vexed by high incarceration and recidivism rates costing citizens billions of dollars each year,” said DDD Chairperson Judy Barrasso. “According to the United States Department of Justice, the annual cost of incarcerating the approximately 1 in every 100 American adults who is in state or federal prison stood at $80 billion per year in 2010. Fifty-two percent (52%) will be back in jail within three years of their release. However, there are good models for how to break this cycle, and New Paths takes it cue from them.”
For example, the recidivism rate in Norway is 20%, one of the lowest in the world. Several factors likely contribute to the low recidivism rate, including more focus on rehabilitation within the prison system and less on punishment.
As part of its new policy, the DDD will extend extra consideration to RFP respondents who institute a program that successfully employs and supports one or both of the two targeted groups.
The New Paths program will officially begin in August with the DDD’s most recently awarded contract for Sidewalk Cleaning Services, to Block by Block.
Currently, Block by Block operates similar programs in other cities including Cleveland, where through its partnership with a local service provider the SEEDS of Change program provides landscaping skills training to individuals. On average, 12 persons per year gain skills and exposure to employers through the SEEDS program that leads to fulltime employment opportunity.
“We’ve found the job opportunities offered through cleaning and landscaping programs are fantastic first steps for individuals to build their resume,” said Block by Block President Blair McBride. “We’re excited to formalize a program in New Orleans to create such opportunities for persons in transition.”
In New Orleans, Block by Block has partnered with the Urban League of Greater New Orleans to fully implement the DDD New Paths Program, which will include on-the-job training opportunities in safety, cleaning, hospitality, landscaping and technology. As the local service provider, the Urban League will assist with outreach and recruitment and provide career and workforce fundamentals training.
“Our experience working with unemployed, underemployed and re-entry clients throughout our 77-year history, has proven the importance of strong foundational “life” skills as a panacea to sustained employment and reducing recidivism,” said Urban League of Greater New Orleans President & CEO Erika McConduit-Diggs. “We are pleased to partner with the New Paths Program to offer jobseekers essential workforce fundamentals training that is so critical to their success.”
“We look forward to working with Block by Block and the Urban League as we strive to rebuild lives by offering to those in need of a second chance, gainful employment,” concluded Weigle.