Homelessness can Ruin Inmates’ Plans

NEWARK – Inmates at the Licking County Justice Center are advised to plan for the day of their release, but homelessness can quickly destroy the best of plans.

Turning their life around becomes much more difficult without a warm bed and a roof over their head. They may wait months before they find a safe place to stay. While they wait, many return to the lifestyle which landed them behind bars in the first place.

Donna Gibson, a re-entry coordinator who teaches a parenting class and works part-time for Licking County Alcoholism Prevention Program, said she preaches to inmates to have a 72-hour emergency plan upon release, so they know where to get clothes, meals, housing, medication and look for a job.

“If you’re going to screw up, it can happen in the first three days,” Gibson said. “Sometimes, they say they have to go to the shelter and that’s a tough call. We make phone calls to Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul. If the shelters are not open, they have to couch surf.”

Deb Tegtmeyer, director of the Licking County Coalition of Housing, acknowledged the coalition will probably not be able to find housing immediately for someone released from jail. They’re not considered homeless, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines, if they were in jail more than 90 days.

“Immediately? Very, very slim (chance),” Tegtmeyer said. “Coming out of jail, we appreciate that’s a problem. To be able to help somebody immediately is hard. We have funds to work very quickly with veterans. Families, we can move them fairly quickly, if they’re not large families.”

So, if the Salvation Army and St. Vincent Haven are full, released inmates may wait months to get a place through the housing coalition, Tegtmeyer said, but it depends on their housing situation before going to jail, how long they’re in jail and their eligibility for various programs.

During a recent community discussion on homelessness, some speakers alleged inmates are not properly prepared for release, put out into cold weather without proper clothing, in the middle of the night, with no home or destination, setting them up to fail.Get the News Alerts newsletter in your inbox.

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Jail Capt. Chris Barbuto said that description is not accurate, pointing to 16 programs available for inmates in the areas of education, parenting, drug and alcohol abuse, anger management, faith, first aid and job training. The jail does not deserve blame for contributing to the homeless problem, he said.

“I’d put our jail up against any in the state,” Barbuto said. “We’ve hired some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. Very compassionate, caring people. We have a lot more programs than we ever did.”

Deputy Greg Cook teaches inmates at the Licking County Justice Center how to use an AED machine during a course teaching CPR skills. By the end of the course each participant will be tested to be certified. The class also teaches how to help someone who is choking, first aid skills as well as how to administer Naloxone. (Photo: Jessica Phelps/The Advocate)

Lisa Walls, a licensed social worker for 10 years who has worked at the jail for six years, said, “Every inmate here for two weeks, we see them and talk about all the services we can offer and it’s up to them whether they choose to use them.

“Sometimes, we don’t know they’re going to get out. We try our best to link them with services. We contact shelters and provide identification. Jail chaplain has clothes available. We make sure they have something.”

Most are released during normal business hours, unless a drunk-driving arrest requires a release in the middle of night or an inmate bonds out during the night.

There were 376 released between midnight and 8 a.m. last year, out of 4,838 inmates, Barbuto said.

“We need to be releasing people so they can go to probation office or other services,” Barbuto said. “Often there’s an agreement with judge to release during the day. If someone wants out at 1 a.m., or bonded out, we can’t keep them beyond their time.”

It’s difficult to know how many inmates are actually homeless, Barbuto said.

“A high percentage here are struggling with mental health issues,” he said. “Or drug use. We try to make sure they have a refill on meds.”

In 2019, 57% of jail inmates were diagnosed with a mental illness and/or drug and alcohol addiction, up from 33% in 2015.

Jail chaplainScott Hays said, “About two-and-a-half years ago, I saw a real obvious spike in those experiencing homelessness. I see more obvious homelessness. I don’t know if I see more drug use.”

The program with the most participants is Getting Ahead, a program offered by Mental Health America of Licking County that focuses on social skills and planning for re-entry into society. Getting Ahead served an average of 152 inmates per month in 2019.

Donna Lee, coordinator of Getting Ahead, a Bridges Out of Poverty program, said housing is vital because released inmates are more likely to return to jail if they are homeless or if they return to a home where there is drug use. She said it’s pretty common they have no place to go for a couple months.

“The base of everything I do is try to help homeless people find resources,” Lee said. “I try to get them to understand what behaviors make them more likely to go back to jail.

“If they follow the plan, they should be able to get into a place in a couple months. There’s a scant lack of beds for women, unless she’s being beaten. There’s no safety net if there’s no place to go immediately.”

Inmates at the Licking County Justice Center learn CPR skills. By the end of the course each inmate will be CPR certified. The class also teaches how to help someone who is choking, first aid skills as well as how to administer Naloxone. (Photo: Jessica Phelps/The Advocate)

Sometimes they have a home, but returning there is not advisable. Finding the right place is critical.

“A lot of them come from generational poverty,” Lee said. “They can’t go back to their wife, because she’s probably high too, and can’t go back to their parents because that’s where they get their dope. And, the landlords can be addicts too.”

Walls said inmates should meet with their probation officer, go to the Licking County Department of Job and Family Services to begin their job search and secure housing, if needed.

They are also directed to the Salvation Army, St. Vincent Haven, housing coalition or Behavioral Healthcare Partners. A residential drug and alcohol facility in Frazeysburg, called The Landing, is another potential destination.

“There’s so much they need, you have to look at what’s important, and try not to get in the same situation that brought them to jail,” Walls said. “A lot of them don’t have insurance. A job will help with that.

“We try our best to help people get rides. Even (police) officers do courtesy rides. Especially when we know they’re suffering from mental illness. We’re a team here.”

kmallett@newarkadvocate.com

740-328-8545

Twitter: @kmallett1958

Inmate programs

The following table demonstrates the diversity of the programs offered to inmates at the Licking County Justice Center. Most of the programs are taught by volunteers or funded by other agencies. The numbers show program participation per month and for all of 2019. The total includes repeats, as some inmates participated in a program each month.

Alcoholics Anonymous: 70 per month; 840 total.

Anger Management: Participation in June, July, August; 21 total

Art: 133.1; 1,597 total.

CPR/First Aid: 3.7 per month; 45 total.

GED: 58.7 last four months; 235 total.

Getting Ahead: 152.2 per month; 1,827 total.

Industrial Mechanical: 17.7 in January, February, March; 53 total.

Inside Out Dads: 7.8 last six months; 47 total.

Knuckleheads U: 12.8 in five months; 64 total.

Moving On: 105.6 in last five months; 528 total.

Narcotics Anonymous: 113.7 per month; 1,365 total.

Parenting: 47.8 last six months; 287 total.

ServSafe: 5 in June, October; 10 total.

Sexual Education: 9.7 per month; 117 total.

Step One: 11.7 first four months; 47 total.

Tobacco Cessation: 48.4 per month; 581 total.

All programs: 638.7 per month; 7,664 total.

Published in the Newark Advocate on Feb. 9, 2020

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