Discussing St. Leonard's
Keeping people on the fringe of society for fear that they will err again more often than not will guarantee they do exactly that.
12/23/2009 10:00 PM
If you havenít visited Chicago Journalís Web site to follow this paperís coverage of St. Leonardís Ministries (SLM), youíve missed an important community conversation.
More than 40 comments have been posted to the Journalís recent article about a parolee to St. Leonardís named Julius Anderson, who has a record of rape and armed robbery convictions. He left the St. Leonardís property this summer and allegedly committed two more sexual crimes before being captured.
Though some who have commented on the story resorted to unproductive sniping and name calling, the dialogue, I think, has been a good one, highlighting important questions about ex-offender re-entry programs, sex offender monitoring and neighborhood safety.
I like what ďConcerned from Near West SideĒ wrote on Dec. 11:
ďPlease donít blame SLM for Andersonís actions. Just as you all make your own choices, Mr. Anderson made his own choices. SLM helps people become individuals who will not make the choices that Mr. Anderson made. If you take time to speak with many of the SLM residents you will learn of the positive changes many have made to become productive members of society. The goal of SLM is to limit the number of repeat offenders as much as possible. If individuals choose otherwise, that is no fault of SLM.Ē
There is no panacea to solving the complex issues of ex-offenders returning home, and I am not excusing them of the serious mistakes they made.
But keeping people on the fringe of society for fear that they will err again more often than not will guarantee they do exactly that.
Eight years ago, I was working at Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, a statewide direct service and policy organization focused on ex-offenders with drug-use issues.
I came away with tremendous respect for case managers working with this population and for the people going through the TASC program. Clients were often products of broken homes and were introduced ó sometimes by their parents ó to drug use early in life.
When ex-offenders were released from jail, they were told not to go back to the neighborhood where they got in trouble. But that was also likely the only neighborhood they knew. A bus dropped them off under a viaduct or near a depot, and they had 72 hours to find a place to live, report to TASC and to their parole officer. I often wondered, ďAnd then what?Ē
Later, when I worked at Housing Opportunities for Women, I learned that the answer for many ex-offenders is homelessness, as they find themselves without resources and assistance.
In contrast, for the ex-offenders who are fortunate to have the chance, SLM is the answer, providing training and housing. Through this approach, the organization achieves a recidivism rate below 20 percent, according to the SLM Web site, well below the statewide average.
The group is planning to expand. SLM is working with foundations and other social service organizations to add living quarters for women and a retail cafť on the first floor of the Viceroy Hotel property at Ashland and Warren, at the south end of Union Park. The cafe will be staffed by participants going through one of its job training programs.
Over the years the Viceroy has been, to put it politely, a place of ill repute. The new social service building, with St. Leonardís included, is thus a welcome addition to the informal border area between the West Loop and the Near West Side.
I think St. Leonardís is capable of expanding its operations and the plans to do so deserve community support.
There is already an element of not-in-my-backyardism at play in some of the online discussions I referenced. I donít have patience for it, just as I donít for those who want to halt development over the loss of their skyline view. The conversation should be about so much more than that.
I hope weíll continue the good discussion Chicago Journal has fostered online. These are complex issues and they deserve a full range of comments and reactions.