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LIFT Project

LIFT is a collaborative project between JONAH, EXPO, and the City County Health Department, that arose out of a large grant from Community Catalyst of Washington D.C. through the Kresge Foundation, whose primary mission is to reduce barriers to housing for people with conviction histories.

Team members:

  1. Learn from people with lived experience to really understand the problem and lift up their stories.
  2. Work to reduce barriers to people with criminal backgrounds by improving existing programs and encouraging entities to invest community benefit dollars.
  3. Build relationships with organizations and individuals connected to the issue.
  4. Provide community education on the issue of housing and conviction histories – how housing is a social determinant of health outcomes.
  5. Receive training from, and work with, the grantor.

Since November of 2019, this project team has:

  • Built a team of JONAH staff, Health Dept, EXPO members, community advocates, professionals, people with conviction histories, and landlords.
  • Collected 50 stories from people without a place to live who have conviction histories.
  • Trained 9 individuals to be trainers in Social Determinants of Health.
  • Worked with EXPO to pressure Gov. Evers to protect people in prison from COVID.
  • Produced a survey to hear community response on the stay-at-home order around COVID.
  • Collected Stories from landlords and parole officers who have worked with this population.
  • Gathered data about the problem for health care and community education for a full-scale understanding of the complexities of the issue in our community, and of local and national approaches to solutions.

Current goals:

  1. Work with existing community programs to bring those being left behind back into these resources
  2. Find someone to invest financially in housing for people with conviction histories (we are starting with healthcare systems)
  3. Educate the community on the issue and why this population is important to invest in and how that can economically and socially benefit our society.

Future goals:

  1. Re-Introduce “Ban the Box” to remove the checkbox on rental and job applications indicating if you have a criminal background.
  2. Increase peer support and relational-based advocacy.
  3. Work with JONAH task forces on housing and criminal justice.
  4. Expand our policy support.

Why this work is needed:

“While health care providers do all they can to mitigate the effects of the streets, no amount of health care can substitute for stable housing.” – Source: National Health Care for the Homeless Council, Feb 2019

“15% of people were homeless within a year of incarceration.” – Source: Global Evidence for Peer Support: Humanizing Health Care. (2014)

Individuals released from jail without housing are: 

  • 7x more likely to violate parole;
  • More likely to suffer from mental illness or substance abuse;
  • Face increased rates of unemployment, risk of re-arrest and risks of relapsing into substance abuse.

Source: The Council of State Governments Justice Center NRRC FActs and Trends; and  “Jail Incarceration, Homelessness and Mental Health: A National Study” by Psychiatric Services

Of the 15 existing housing programs available to people in the area (Source: LIFT Team):

  • 100% of housing resources in Eau Claire County have a waiting list.
  • 80% have conditions for acceptance that make it difficult for people to qualify.
  • 26% do not take people with conviction histories AT ALL, but of the 73% that work willingly with most convictions people are still falling through the cracks.
  • Only 6% (1 to be exact) have any wrap around services, although 2 have peer support available. 4 programs have case manager check-ins.

The main reason we do this project is because of the people we meet – people who have successfully turned their lives around because of stable housing, and those we know who have fallen through the cracks. We know first-hand that recovery and re-entry are complex but also possible. People have amazing stories and amazing potential when a community adequately supports their needs.

LIFT Team Members:

  • Lynn Buske, JONAH Organizer and Project Lead
  • Myriam Hernandez-Jennings, Community Catalyst Project Manager
  • Cortney Nicholson, EC Health Department
  • TJ Atkins, Executive Director of the Community Table
  • Anthony Ledford, EXPO and JONAH Leader
  • Nycki Wallsch, EXPO/FREE Organizer
  • Kyle Brown, EXPO
  • Mary Catherine Proctor, Lifelong Community Advocate
  • Libby Richter, Social Worker at L.E. Philips

Guests are always welcome to attend meetings (every 2nd and 4th Thursday at 6:30pm) or join our team! Contact project lead at cvjonahorganizer@gmail.com for more information.