Model Program Profile: St. Leonard’s Ministries

Saint Leonard’s Ministries is a project of the Episcopal Charities of Chicago and provides residential and supportive services for ex-offenders as they transition from incarceration back into society. The program consists of several distinct components:

  • 40 beds of emergency housing at the St. Leonard’s house for men and 18 beds of emergency housing for women at the Grace House for Women. Rooms are either single occupancy or shared. Three meals a day are provided and residents have access to laundry, computers, and other important basic services.
  • 42 beds of second stage housing for men at St. Andrew’s Court.
  • Mental health care, counseling, and substance abuse treatment. All residents receive access to these vital services on site which include relapse prevention strategies.
  • Assistance with accessing benefits, community services, and housing placement.
  • Job training and education provided at the Michael Barlow Center. Formerly incarcerated men and women have the opportunity to study in an adult high school program, take green building maintenance courses, use a computer lab, work with volunteer tutors, train for culinary careers in the onsite training kitchen, and work with an employment placement specialist.

St. Leonard’s hopes to be able to open transitional single room occupancy housing for women in the coming year. The recidivism rate of St Leonard’s residents is 20%, compared to an overall state rate of over 50%.

Advice on the challenges of helping this population and tips for overcoming these challenges from the Executive Director, Bob Dougherty:

The main challenge faced by an organization like St. Leonard’s is one of perception of our work within the community. We know how to help our residents with solutions that work, but the community can often have a “not in my backyard” attitude towards the reentering population that is difficult to overcome. It is important to remind key stakeholders that these interventions work and the population we are talking about deserves a second chance. In many cases they actually deserve the first chance that they never had. Another challenge faced by programs like St. Leonard’s is that funding streams are limited; there are more providers and more need than current funds allow and we are not as effective as we’d like to be.

Two steps for successfully changing outcomes for previously incarcerated individuals:

The first step is pretty simple. We involve ourselves in their lives. At St. Leonard’s we make sure our residents know that we care about them and their success.  Often our residents come to us with a perspective that no one is going to give them a chance so it isn’t even worth trying. We show them that this isn’t true by giving them a chance ourselves.

The second step is to provide the tools they need to be successful. I can’t stress enough that one of these tools is mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Many of our residents have struggled with addiction their entire adult life: they can’t just wake up one morning and decide to no longer be burdened by it. They need help and a partner to work with them as they get through it, including contingency plans if they relapse.  They also need education, job skills, and help accessing benefits.

Tips for other providers on ways to improve a program to help this population:

If you can’t provide all the services you want to, look for organizations in your community who have the resources you need and approach them about a partnership. We have invaluable partnerships with many organizations. A local public high school allows our residents to get high school degrees. We receive clinical help from the Adler School of Psychology and tutors and interns from several nearby universities. Churches and food pantries help us find the food we need to feed our residents. The City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, and the Department of Corrections are all critical to our success as well.

One simple thing to do that we have found really helps is to coordinate with our residents’ parole officers, both before they exit the institution and while they are in our program.