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City announces ‘Project Connect’ to prevent inmates released from downtown jail from becoming homeless

The first city-led jail in-reach program in Riverside County addressed 2022 data finding 20 percent of homeless people had previously been incarcerated.

The Robert Presley Detention Center in downtown Riverside.

Addressing the connection between incarceration and homelessness, the City has begun engaging with inmates at the Robert Presley Detention Center downtown, offering services to those scheduled for release and at risk of homelessness. This initiative, labeled Project Connect, is reportedly the first city-led jail in-reach program in Riverside County.

According to Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson, who worked with Governor Newsom and a coalition of mayors across the state to secure funding for the program, “Project Connect will become a model and best practice for other cities throughout California.”

Statistics from the Point in Time count of individuals experiencing homelessness in 2022 showed that 20 percent of homeless people had previously been involved in the justice system. This number slightly decreased to 17 percent in 2023.

Mayor Lock Dawson elaborated on the strategy to tackle the homelessness crisis, “If we can focus on preventing people from becoming homeless, we’ve addressed the issue at its core, and Project Connect does just that.”

The City’s Office of Homeless Solutions is collaborating with local non-profit Victory Outreach to assess inmates and establish which services they might need upon release to prevent homelessness. The organization has a long history of working with the formerly incarcerated and helps develop a re-entry plan for each inmate, which may include referrals for services, assistance with documentation necessary for employment, and family reunification, when possible.

Senior Pastor of Victory Outreach, Dr. Dell Castro, expressed gratitude for the collaboration, emphasizing the goal to reach out and provide hope for a second chance.

Project Connect was officially launched on May 2 following the City Council’s approval of an agreement with Victory Outreach. The program strives to match each person’s unique needs with suitable resources and services, according to Homeless Solutions Officer Dr. Lorissa Villarreal.

Research indicates that repeated incarcerations can increase the likelihood of homelessness, and early intervention with service arrangements can help reduce recidivism, explained Dr. Villarreal. To date, the program has engaged with 25 individuals and completed needs assessments for 13. The other 12 were transferred out of the facility, declined the opportunity, or reside in a city other than Riverside. Victory Outreach has connected with 19 individuals and offered services to 10, with half of them accepting, demonstrating a significant success rate for this type of intervention.

“This is a critical piece of our city’s Homelessness Action Plan, which launched in Oct 2022,” said Mayor Pro Tem Erin Edwards, who chairs the City Council’s Housing and Homelessness Committee. “I look forward to hearing more exciting outcomes as the program continues.”

City Councilmember Chuck Conder said: “This is a very important program. That’s the best way we can help them – to give them hope and follow up with the services they need.”