Starting this summer, Indiana Legal Services will partner with the East Chicago Housing Authority to help local youths who have criminal records overcome the barriers to jobs, housing and education.
The partnership is getting a $100,000 grant from the Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program funded by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development. A total of $1.75 million was awarded in JRAP money to 18 public housing agencies and nonprofit legal aid organizations across the country.
“This program will provide new hope to youth in East Chicago and will remove major obstacles that may prevent them from becoming productive members in our community,” ECHA executive director Tia Cauley said in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Indiana Legal Services.”
The program will begin July 1 and run through Dec. 31, 2017.
Other housing authorities receiving a JRAP grant are from bigger municipalities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. East Chicago Housing Authority, serving a city with a population under 30,000, may be the smallest recipient of JRAP money.
Stephen Rodriguez, managing partner at the ILS Merrillville office, explained the collaboration with the housing authority will connect the legal aid attorneys with 16- to 24-year-olds who live in public housing and need assistance with a civil legal problem. The focus will be on filing for expungements for the youths but other help will be provide such as getting suspended drivers’ licenses reinstated and modifying child support orders.
He is hopeful the partnership will have a positive benefit for the residents not only by helping young adults clear some of the obstacles caused by their past actions but also by making other youths aware of the consequences they will face if they commit a crime.
The biggest hurdle for ILS, Rodriguez said, will be getting the word out that this help is available. Even after 18 years as a legal aid attorney, Rodriguez is still surprised as the percentage of local residents who do not know that Indiana Legal Services exists or the kind of assistance it provides.
He believes the East Chicago Housing Authority can identify and direct young adults to ILS. Once the youths know the service is available, Rodriguez is confident they will take the opportunity to get help.
The ILS Merrillville office will be hiring an additional attorney to help the individuals who will be seeking assistance through this program, Rodriguez said.
Jon Laramore, ILS executive director, highlighted the potential positive impact the partnership as can have on the entire East Chicago community.
“Our partnership with ECHA will offer young people in East Chicago who have paid their debt to society a second chance to move on with their lives,” he said in a statement. “This project also represents a good investment for the community in reducing the chances that these individuals will commit crimes in the future.”