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Introducing Project Connect

How Riverside is connecting formerly incarcerated individuals with services and a path forward to prevent homelessness.

As the county seat—home to the justice center for expansive Riverside County, it is no hidden fact that the City of Riverside experiences challenges that other Riverside County cities do not experience. When someone is arrested in Temecula, Hemet, Moreno Valley, or elsewhere, they are taken to the Robert Presley Detention Center in downtown Riverside. Voter-approved ballot measures have expedited the closure of state prisons and the release of inmates at more frequent rates than in prior decades. When individuals are booked into Riverside’s jail, their time served is often minimal, and they are then released.

Data gathered by our city and county tell us that more than half of individuals released from the Robert Presley Detention Center are released onto the streets of downtown Riverside without contacts, ways to get home, or services for medical conditions such as mental illness or substance abuse. This is unacceptable.

Over a year ago, I met with Councilmember Chuck Conder and non-profit partner Victory Outreach to see what we could do within our local authority to prevent folks being released from jail from ending up on the streets of Riverside—being victimized themselves or victimizing others.

From this discussion, a partnership with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Riverside Police Department, and Victory Outreach was forged. This partnership program is called Project Connect and was launched last month.

Additional data tells us 20% of our homeless population are formerly incarcerated and that many of these individuals continually cycle through our justice system. Our Office of Homeless Solutions and Victory Outreach conduct jail in reach assessments to identify those most at risk of becoming homeless after their release—bringing a new level of case management. From there, they can be provided services or returned to their city of origin—or refuse help, too.

In the first two months of operation, Project Connect has seen a 50% success rate for accepting services. However, the same size is small with a modest team of workers, so more work must be done to truly measure the efficacy of this program.

People have said, “Why should we care about ‘criminals?’” The reality is much more complex than that. The population released from the jail in our downtown—without services or a place to go—will end up in cycles of homelessness and crime. We must prevent that before it happens, and one way to do that is to ensure upon release, formerly incarcerated people have a plan for what is next. A plan that does not include homelessness or recidivism in crime. The alternative is to continue to do what has been done for the previous years, which is direct release into downtown with nothing more, and I say that is not an option.

Work continues to take on the many causes of homelessness in our city—this is just one cause. I remain committed to the dedicated work that is needed day in and day out to take on this challenge which has been years in the making. And, as always, if you have ideas of what the city can do—within our legal authority—to address homelessness in a more productive way, I am all ears. Please contact me.

For more information on Project Connect, watch our press conference.