Lexington should try anti-violence strategies working in other cities

April 21, 2017. Lexington Herald-Leader.

No one in Lexington should have to worry, like Cheryl Birch does, as she leaves before dawn for her job at a local hospital, “Am I going to step out into gunfire, step on somebody.”

Mayor Jim Gray has made reducing gun violence, especially to protect Lexington’s youth, a priority and is asking the council to approve funding for 30 new police officers.

But more police doing the same things won’t produce different results.

Pumped up by pope, anti-poverty advocates joining Vatican summit in Calif

January 25, 2017. CatholicPhilly.com

WASHINGTON (CNS) — For 27 years, Pat Campbell-Williams has worked on Detroit’s West Side, organizing her neighbors to tackle tough economic justice issues. It’s good work, she acknowledged, but she didn’t know if anyone cared beyond the city limits.

Lexington council votes to spend $10 million surplus

March 20, 2014. Lexington Herald-Leader.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council on Thursday unanimously agreed to spend a $10 million surplus from this year’s budget.

Resolution 45 commits the city to spending the surplus on affordable housing and homeless initiatives, among other items. The surplus was created by $5 million in savings and $5 million in unanticipated revenue.

The Rev. Adam Jones, co-chairman of Building A United Inter-Faith Lexington through Direct-Action (BUILD), praised the council for passing the resolution as others held up a sign with 500 bricks drawn on it; each brick contained the signature of a Lexington resident who agreed with spending for affordable housing.

“We wanted to make sure that the council and mayor knew that it is a step in the right direction,” Jones said. “However, the full resolution of the affordable housing resolutioncrisis must include an affordable housing trust fund with a dedicated revenue stream.”

A council committee had set aside $3 million for affordable housing and $500,000 for homeless initiatives. The city plans to spend $2.9 million on body armor, Tasers and 65 police cruisers; $2.9 million on fire equipment, including thermal imaging devices and repairs to aging fire buildings; $2.5 million for three fire trucks and an ambulance; and about $535,000 on community corrections or the county jail.

Affordable housing has been a growing problem as the city has lost 28,000 apartments affordable to minimum-wage workers in 20 years, a recent report found. Also according to the report, by czb consultants, Lexington is losing 400 rental units each year to higher rents. The report, issued last month, recommended spending at least $3 million to $4 million a year to address the problem.

Greg Capillo, a representative from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said the lack of affordable housing in Lexington affects him, and it needs a secure fix, but “budget surpluses are not secure.”

“As a young person who works a low-wage job, I’m personally in a precarious situation with a landlord who is not up to par, but I don’t think I can get rent that’s as affordable elsewhere,” Capillo said.

It has not been decided how the affordable housing and homeless funds will be spent, but the council is to receive a detailed plan in coming months. Mayor Jim Gray said they must take one step at a time.

“Have a plan and work the plan,” he said. “This is a significant first step. … I trust, hope and believe the affordable housing advocates recognize what a big step this is. It’s rare for a council to make this significant of an investment.”


BUILD ensures inmates have identification

In October 2012, 285 BUILD leaders voted to focus on issues related to re-entry and recidivism. At the time, people were routinely being released by Lexington’s detention center into the community without an ID. Given that identification is necessary to get a job, find housing, open a bank account, and other basic tasks, this was a critical gap in the criminal justice system. BUILD discovered that the state of Indiana had developed the best program in the country for ensuring people were issued IDs before being released, and wanted the Fayette County Detention Center to follow the Indiana model. On April 16 2013, BUILD brought out 1,680 people to its Action Assembly. BUILD used that power to negotiate and win commitments from the Fayette County Circuit Court Clerk and the Director of the Fayette County Detention Center to develop a program to ensure inmates have a state-issued photo ID prior to their release. Out of 41 inmates who are in a designated re-entry program, 21 have received assistance in getting IDs prior to their release to date.

BUILD presses for fair hiring practices

In 2011, BUILD began to research re-entry and learned that 20,000 people in Lexington have a criminal background. It was determined that almost every problem related to re-entry branches from employment barriers, specifically, employers not willing to hiring ex-offenders. There were a number of organizations training and providing services to prepare ex-offenders for the job market, but the majority of ex-offenders were still not being hired due to their criminal history. Studies show that if ex-offenders do not obtain employment within 90 days of release, they are 500 times more likely to re-offend. BUILD also looked for best practices in other communities and found that many communities now conduct criminal background checks only for positions that require them by law or sensitive positions for which a background check is necessary. For example, in Minneapolis, nearly 60% of applicants with a potentially disqualifying record were hired in 2007, compared to 5.7% under the prior policy. As a result of BUILD’s 2012 Nehemiah Action, Lexington’s Mayor, his administration, and local employers agreed to attend an Ex-Offender Employment Workshop to deepen their understanding of fair, effective hiring practices. Following this workshop, Mayor Gray committed to promote hiring policies that help reduce recidivism by getting people with a criminal history back to work.