The Advocate: Experts agree - County needs affordable, transitional housing

NEWARK – More than a decade ago, a homeless man nearly froze to death sleeping outside the Licking County Administration Building in sub-zero temperatures.

Since then, the Salvation Army expanded its shelter, St. Vincent Haven opened a men's shelter, The Main Place opened The Place Next Door, and St. Vincent de Paul opened The Gardens on Sixth.

Despite the additions of various types of housing, local officials say a need remains for more affordable, transitional housing in the area.

The needs include those in poverty, recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, suffering from a mental illness, victims of domestic violence, and recently released from prison.

Dennis, who spent 60 days at the Salvation Army shelter, said he is homeless while he awaits news from the Licking County Coalition for Housing. He said he just got out of prison, and has no family, no job and no money. And, he wants to avoid some shelters.

"I prefer not to be around a bunch of addicts and thieves," said Dennis, who did not want to disclose his full name. "Hopefully, an apartment will come through real quick."

Deb Tegtmeyer, executive director of the Licking County Coalition for Housing, said the annual January count of homeless in the community showed 190 here.

“Is it absolutely accurate?" Tegtmeyer said. "Of course not, but it’s the best we can do. It’s probably twice that, and it depends on how you define homeless."

Tegtmeyer was one of nine featured speakers at a recent United Way of Licking County Community Partners Council meeting on housing at the Licking County Aging Program.

"Our challenge, of course, is there's just not enough (housing), and at prices that are affordable for a lot of people," Tegtmeyer said. "Housing costs have been skyrocketing over the last several years, and wages have not been keeping up. That's true across Ohio and the United States."

The housing coalition operates more than 40 units of transitional housing for homeless families and individuals.

Ellanor Shanklin, a recovering addict, attended the Community Partners Council meeting, and addressed the panel of speakers.

"We need an emergency safe haven house for those in addiction," Shanklin said. "That's been my dream. A recovery atmosphere where anybody can come. I had a home to go to, but it would be nice to have a recovery home.

"Just a one-day reprieve where they wouldn't have to go back to the dope house. A shower and hope. Most addicts don't want to be in addiction, but they're stuck."

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The Advocate: Group thinks Newark vision plan didn't account for whole city

NEWARK - Newark stakeholders have worked to create a 10-year vision plan for the city, but some people feel the general public was not included in enough of the process.

Lesha Farias, from the Newark Think Tank on poverty, is concerned only a small group of business owners, city officials, and other major stakeholders made the plan.

"It's not the community's plan," she said. "It's the people that they wanted to make the plan making the plan."

At a meeting Thursday at the Newark Development Partners' office on Union Street, Aaron Domini from the Columbus community planning firm OHM Advisors, explained the results of the plan, which was commissioned by NDP and paid for by private contributors. Farias and a handful of other people from the think tank attended the meeting Thursday to voice their concerns.

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Columbus Dispatch: Luncheon spreads message that not all offenders fit in same basket

“It is an unfortunate fact about my life, but nonetheless, I did commit a violent act,” White said.

Standing in the Statehouse Atrium Tuesday afternoon, she was one of five speakers — either victims of crime or formerly incarcerated Ohioans — who spoke at the R3 Legislative Luncheon. The three Rs stand for rehabilitation, restoration and redemption.

Re-entry and criminal justice reform were a common thread among the speakers, and discussion focused on the Modify Criminal Sentencing and Corrections Law, Sierah’s Law and the Reagan Tokes Act.

The sentencing and corrections law is generally aimed at moving low-level, nonviolent offenders out of prison, or preventing them from going there in the first place. Sierah’s Law would make the attorney general establish and maintain a state registry of violent offenders by Dec. 31. The Reagan Tokes Act focuses on the sentencing of violent offenders, electronic monitoring and re-entry standards for inmates.

Tracy Van Sickle argues all felony crimes shouldn’t be lumped together, because each circumstance surrounding the crime is different.

“While looking at these bills today before us and with much empathy for the victims of crime, their families and their friends, there are many unintended consequences regarding these bills as they stand,” said Sickle, who spent 12 years in prison.

Eddie Slade, a restored violent offender, said the prison system needs to be revisited and fixed.

“If you want to repair a car, you can’t take it to a doctor. You gotta take it to a mechanic so if you want to help somebody become rehabilitated, reintegrated, you got to get restored citizens involved in the process,” Slade said of ex-offenders.

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Between Coasts: Second Chances in the Rust Belt

NEWARK - Dana Cashdollar had been in line since early in the morning. Short, with red hair and a mustache, Dana walked at the very back. He watched as the column of inmates shuffled along, down hallways, and through gates he’d never seen before, even after several years of being locked up at Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe, Ohio.

He was being led toward a room—a last checkpoint before a waiting area with a door that opened on a half-full parking lot, a crisp breeze, and an open sky.

As he passed, a guard called out, “You ever come back, Cashdollar, I’ll give you a kidney shot.” Dana gave him permission to do that and a whole lot worse.

His daughter, his brother, and his mom were waiting for him in the lobby, ready to drive him home to Licking County. “My family was so excited for me that I almost forgot to be excited myself,” Dana remembers.

In Ohio, thousands of men and women are released from prison every year. According to the recent Licking County Reentry Summit, over 24,000 will return to their communities in 2017. In Licking County, where Dana lives, around a quarter of those released will probably be reincarcerated again within three years.

On his first day free, Dana had to adjust quickly. His brother handed him a new phone with a touch-screen—quite different than the flip phone he’d had in 2007. He also had to get used to not having cuffs on his wrists while traveling on the highway.

And he had to reorganize his life, beginning with documentation. To re-enter society–getting a job, opening a bank account, even going to a doctor–Cashdollar would need a social security card, birth certificate, and state ID, none of which he had.

Dana Cashdollar had to start over.

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Catholic News Service: Ohio think tank gives people a much-needed voice in overcoming poverty

NEWARK, Ohio -- For Cooper, family isn't just those who share their last name.

When it comes to helping people in need, the couple often sets an extra plate at the dinner table for someone without food, offers a night's rest to someone without a bed or readily provides a lift to the doctor's office for a neighbor whose car broke down.

"We share a community. We share a town," Chuck told Catholic News Service in late December.

Life became more of a struggle though for the Coopers as 2017 dawned.

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Truthout: Fighting for Seats at the Table: A Poor People's Movement in a Rustbelt Town

After years in and out of jail, Chris Wills says his work as an organizer with the Newark Think Tank on Poverty gives me a reason not to go back. (Photo: Jack Shuler)

(Photo: Jack Shuler)

When Chris Wills got out of prison, he could not find a job. He applied, but no one would hire him because of his record.

And then he started using drugs again.

In a moment of desperation, he went to talk with a friend who ran programs in the local jail. His friend didn't tell him to just get clean. He didn't tell him to just get a job. He gave him some advice that, in the moment, Wills thought was just weird. His friend told him to go meet with some community organizers from a group called the Newark Think Tank on Poverty.

The Think Tank is an organization started in 2014 that is modelling a new approach for addressing poverty. Based in Newark, Ohio, the town where Wills lives, the group is made up of people currently struggling with poverty, or who have struggled in the past. The group's goal is to have their voices heard by people who make decisions.

Wills told me in a recent interview that he has three families now. His piercing blue eyes lit up as he named them: "My friends in recovery, my church, and the Think Tank."

After years in and out of jail, Chris Wills says his work as an organizer with the Newark Think Tank on Poverty "gives me a reason not to go back." (Photo: Jack Shuler)As the Republicans gathered in Cleveland to discuss supporting that guy who wants to build a wall, Wills woke up every morning at the men's shelter where he lives, two-and-a-half hours away in Newark. He went to work, focused on recovery and built his new life. He was also organizing for change in this Rust Belt town.

This is no small task.

Newark, population 48,000 plus, is a red city in a red county. It's about 45 minutes from Columbus and on the outskirts of Appalachian Ohio. One of its claims to fame is an enormous building in the shape of a basket, just off Highway 16. Since 1997, the basket has served as an office space for the Longaberger basket-making company. Layoffs have led the company to move staff out of the building to another site. About a week ago, the last remaining employees left.

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Denison Magazine: From the inside Out

NEWARK - A returning citizen faces serious questions: Do I have anybody to help me? Is my old community a safe place to be? Can I get a job with my record? Will apartment rental agencies screen me out because of my record and my bad credit, and the fact that I have no money to put down? So where will I live? Can I stay sober? Can I get support for my mental health? How can I get to appointments if I don’t have a car?

For all these reasons, reentry is especially hard, says Wendy Tarr, an organizer for the Vincentian Ohio Action Network, especially if you don’t have a supportive community ready to welcome you back. The stress alone can derail a returning citizen by causing addictions to resurface and exacerbating mental health issues.

Not every returning citizen has the same experiences as Cole, Tarr says. “There’s a wide range of reentries—and this starts while people are still in prison. Tina had access to job training and supportive services while she was still inside.” But not everyone gets the same services inside or the same support when they leave. “You’ll hear stories of people getting put on a Greyhound bus with $50, still in their uniforms,” says Tarr. “This happens especially with jails where there are shorter sentences and few programs.”

“It’s crucial to have communities that are ready to receive people,” Tarr says, “and programs that can address the issues they’re facing. If we can do that when people get out so they’re not just dropping people off, then there’s a continuum of care. This is what made Tina’s transition work—she had a caseworker, housing, and a job.”

Securing employment is key, and that’s not a simple task for returning citizens. The struggle begins as soon as they start filling out employment applications and must check the box stating whether or not they have had a felony conviction. An application with the box checked is often ignored.

In recent years the movement to “ban the box” has urged employers to remove the box, and some have even encouraged legislation addressing the issue. Last year Jeremy Blake ’12, a Denison IT technician and member of the City Council of Newark, Ohio, helped write legislation to ban the box on city employment applications. After hearing the stories of returning citizens struggling to find employment and support their families, he knew that banning the box was the right thing to do. “So many people have been touched by the criminal justice system,” says Blake. “They have brothers, sisters, cousins, someone they know who has been incarcerated or struggles with mental health or addiction issues.”

Blake was encouraged to write the legislation by the Newark Think Tank on Poverty, an organization Wendy Tarr works with. The Think Tank has held forums to educate Licking County government officials and business owners about the issue. State governments also are banning the box on applications for jobs in the public sector. Ohio’s ban was signed into law by Governor John Kasich just before Christmas.

On the day the Newark City Council voted on Blake’s “ban the box” legislation, Tina Cole was there. When the floor opened for public comments, she spoke in favor of the legislation before the representatives of her community, the same community where she’d sold drugs years before.

“Taking this box off applications isn’t just giving us a chance to get jobs,” she told the council. “It’s showing us that our community is supporting us, that the city is backing us and is opening more doors.”

She said that if the legislation passes, returning citizens in Newark will be able to hold their heads high. She said that she worked hard to prepare herself for her return and wants to do good and support her family. She concluded by noting that “The last line in the Pledge of Allegiance says ‘with liberty and justice.’ We did our justice. We did our crime; we did our time. It says ‘for all.’ It doesn’t say, ‘except for convicted felons.’”

The room erupted in applause.

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The Advocate: Think Tank Tackles Addiction Solutions

NEWARK - With the help of the Newark Police Department and the Newark Think Tank on Poverty, a new solution to drug addiction could be coming to town.

Newark Police Chief Barry Connell spoke to the think tank Saturday, introducing addiction recovery initiatives law enforcement agencies have used with varying success.

He said he's been working with Patricia Perry and Colleen Richards, two representatives from Addicts' Parents United, a support group for families dealing with a relative's addiction, to bring some of those initiatives to Newark.

"Everybody knows someone who is an addict," Richards said. "I'm not giving up this fight until I'm done. Until I die, I will not give up."

Connell outlined a program that would allow people with addiction to seek help through the police department, similar to an initiative started in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

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The Advocate: ''Orange' author visits county to talk about re-entry

(Photo: Sara C. Tobias/The Advocate)

NEWARK - Tina Cole was serving time at the Ohio Reformatory for Women when she picked up the book, "Orange is the New Black."

At first, Cole wasn't sure she had a lot in common with the author of the memoir, Piper Kerman, who spent 13 months in a women's prison in Connecticut in 2004.

Kerman was a Smith College graduate who was charged with felony money laundering. Cole was a Newark mom who served six years in Marysville for selling drugs.

But when she picked up the book again recently, Cole's life had changed dramatically. She's out of prison, recently celebrated the birth of a grandchild and is working as the general manager of the Sparta in downtown Newark.

One of her goals is to be an advocate for other former inmates as they try navigate life after incarceration.

"When I read it again, I found it very motivating to keep me going in what I do, not only in my day-to-day life, but also with what we are doing in Newark to help returning citizens," she said.

She was thrilled to welcome Kerman to the Sparta on Tuesday for lunch and a discussion about her book and criminal justice reform.

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10TV: Push For States To "Ban The Box" On Job Applications

Where do you go for work, when your resume includes "convicted felon"?

With record-breaking prison populations, it's a reality more cities and states are starting to face.

Monday President Obama is announcing a plan to help those who've served their time re-integrate into society.

It's called "Banning the Box"- eliminating the check box on employment applications that disqualifies an applicant from the very start.

And it's already happening here in Central Ohio.

In six months on the job at Sparta Restaurant and Coffee House in Newark, Tina Cole has quickly climbed the ladder.

"To where I actually have a key to the restaurant; that's, like, huge. For him to trust this restaurant into me I can come in and I can open it. I come in and I close it for him," she said.

To understand why “Restaurant Manager” is much more than a title for her, you need to know the job she held previously:

"For 14 years I sold drugs here in Newark,” Cole said. "I ruined this community by the things I did and by the drugs I put on the street."

Her crimes earned her 6 years in the Ohio Reformatory for Women. From behind those bars, any kind of future appeared beyond her reach.

"Are my kids going to accept me? Are my family going to accept me? Am I going to be able to take care of myself? Maybe I should just get out and start selling drugs again. That's the mindset you have before you get out,” she said.

Through a re-entry program, she found employment, and a chance to show she was more than her crimes.

"I just every day wake up and know I have something to prove- to my kids, to myself, to my community," Cole said.

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