Home to Hope
Charles Boyles, City Manager
Charlottesville, Virginia, has identified itself as a Second Chance City, based on its commitment to facilitating the reentry of offenders who have been released to the community. In 2018, Mayor Nikuyah Walker proposed a program to train individuals with prior justice involvement to provide peer support to those being released, and Home to Hope was born.
Charlottesville’s challenges with respect to reentry begin with racial disparity. Young African Americans experience educational inequities, including segregation based on school location. Consequently, they often lack opportunities to prepare successfully for college and gain access to self-sufficient employment, and many ultimately end up in the local criminal justice system. African Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of bookings in the regional jail.
In partnership with several community service agencies, the city developed a Home to Hope training curriculum in relationship building, group facilitation, and other fundamentals for individuals applying to be “peer navigators.” Recruitment for the training began in spring 2019 based on the identified needs of those soon to be released from incarceration. For the inaugural class, eight individuals were selected from twenty-nine interviewees. After seven weeks of intense training, all eight graduated, and all were interviewed for four full-time city positions as Home to Hope peer navigators at $18 per hour with benefits. All four of those who were selected are still employed with the city and three of the four obtained peer specialist certification from the state. The remaining graduates obtained similar positions in the local nonprofit community.
Home to Hope peer navigators help their clients search for stable employment, secure housing, obtain reliable transportation, and meet other needs such as bus passes for job searches; gift cards for groceries, clothing, and fuel; and rental assistance in crisis situations. It also partners with Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) to provide transportation to clients for meetings, employment, and other vital needs.
Incorporated into the Downtown Job Center in November 2019, the program has enrolled 389 time-served individuals. Once active, a participant completes a comprehensive case plan with his or her assigned peer navigator to determine how to measure individual success. That navigator, along with other team members, assists in guiding the participant through the labyrinth of community services needed for successful reentry. In addition to direct, one-on-one service, Home to Hope offers multiple weekly support groups for individuals who share similar experiences.
Even during the COVID-19 shut-downs, Home to Hope stepped up. Less than a week after lockdown, it organized the distribution of COVID-related relief bags to city residents in need. While unable to serve clients in the jail, Home to Hope still made a positive impact by overseeing many individuals who were released early or placed on home electronic monitoring. Staff also assisted in executing a $1.2 million housing assistance program to aid those at risk of eviction due to COVID.
The Home to Hope program has helped the city achieve its community vision. The first goal in the city’s strategic plan is to be an inclusive community of self-sufficient residents. This requires addressing the needs of the reentry population. Home to Hope has taken a community weakness and turned it into a demonstrable strength. Of the 389 enrollees, only seven have returned to custody, and only three of those were actively involved in the program. That represents a recidivism rate of 1.8 percent, well below the 38 percent rate across the region. Home to Hope has truly represented a paradigm shift in offender reentry in Charlottesville.