JUMP Topeka ‘Night of Justice’ sees official commit to tackle mental health, housing and transportation issues

April 25, 2017. The Topeka Capital-Journal.

A boisterous crowd in downtown Topeka’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral gave booming cheers as Topeka and Shawnee County officials agreed to tackle mental health, affordable housing and transportation — issues affecting many disenfranchised Topekans.

Topeka Justice Unity Ministry Project, more commonly called JUMP, brought members of 20 Shawnee County churches together for a “Night of Justice,” where officials, including Mayor Larry Wolgast, agreed to explore:

JUMP group to gather for ‘Night of Justice’

April 21, 2017. Topeka Capital-Journal.

Several community issues — including mental health, affordable housing and transportation — will be addressed this coming week at a gathering sponsored by the Topeka Justice Unity Ministry Project at a downtown church.

The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, at Grace Episcopal Cathedral, 701 S.W. 8th. Organizers said as many as 1,000 people are expected to attend.

CLOUT seeks expanded bus service to job centers

April 20, 2015. The Courier-Journal.

A faith-based organization received concessions from Louisville and state officials to help expand bus service at employment centers during its annual assembly on Monday.

The Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, or CLOUT, held its “Nehemiah” action assembly at the Memorial Auditorium on Fourth Street to pressure policymakers on public transit and a number of other issues.

Louisville’s unemployment rate is approximately 5 percent, according to state data. But activists and clergy with CLOUT point out it is around 24 percent in some economically depressed neighborhoods that are far removed from burgeoning job centers.

Joined by nearly 1,100 members who sought commitments from officials, CLOUT said it is critical for the city’s busing system to improve routes going to industrial parks, such as Riverport in southwest Jefferson County.

“Individuals need jobs and they want jobs, and those jobs are out at Riverport,” said the Rev. Reginald Barnes of Brown Memorial C.M.E. Church. “But the situation is that many people can’t get to them. If they have adequate transportation, then they can get to the jobs and begin to support themselves.”

The assembly asked Metro Council members in attendance along with Riverport employers and officials from the Kentuckiana Regional Planning & Development Agency to support a $3 million federal grant over three years that TARC is seeking to establish a circulator bus route to Riverport. And they agreed.

Riverport is home to at least 115 companies and approximately 7,000 jobs, including eBay, LG&E and Yokohama Tire Corp.

TARC currently provides eight trips to the Riverport area through its No. 19 bus line.

The city’s busing service also made schedule adjustments and changed arrival and departure times at stops in response to expanding shifts.

TARC Executive Director Barry Barker, who attended the assembly, committed to meeting with stakeholders. The grant requires a 20 percent local match in contributions for any amount TARC receives in federal funding.

“It’s not in the budget currently; we’re going to have to figure out where we’re going to get it,” Barker said.

CLOUT’s dissatisfaction with the city’s busing system was echoed by Riverport businesses, who also have voiced frustrations with the lack of connecting public transit.

In a survey conducted by the Riverport Business Association, 82 percent of employers who responded said they were dissatisfied with the current busing service.

Employers highlight the lack of routes during third shift hours from 11:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., and no trips during the weekends as something hurting job seekers, small businesses and the local economy.

“I bring in 800 employees every Christmas holiday season and I have to go through about 1,500 because some can’t make it every day,” said Keith Pataluna, vice president of Café Press, an online retailer that employs more than 300 workers at Riverport. “People just can’t get there. It’s just really tough for us.”

CLOUT’s assembly also lobbied council members on approving a revenue stream for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, state officials on regulating predatory loan practices and Jefferson County schools on closing the achievement gap along racial lines.

Increased access to transit in Polk County

Polk County — Many families in Polk County are transportation disadvantaged and cannot get to doctor’s appointments, jobs, and school events.  In parts of the county, taxi services charged extremely high rates to families that had limited transit options.  In 2013, PEACE urged Tom Phillips, Executive Director of Polk Transit to expand routes in underserved parts of the county. Two new bus stops were added to route 416 in Haines City in August 2013, including one at the health department clinic; since its founding, there have been over 70,000 rides. Route 32/33 S. Florida/Carter Road was converted to a flex service, which picks people up from their homes, serving those with physical limitations. Route 39 Bradley was also created as a Flex Service and began accepting riders in January 2014.

Polk Superintendent LeRoy pledges to help reduce arrests of students

March 31, 2014. The Lakeland Ledger.

PEACE Polk County 2014 actionA standing-room only crowd packs the sanctuary Monday during the 14th annual PEACE Nehemiah Action at St. Joseph’s Academy in Lakeland. Polk Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy said the district is working to find ways to reduce school based arrests.

LAKELAND | Polk Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy and Polk Sheriff Grady Judd made public commitments Monday to work with the Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment on reducing school-based arrests for non-serious offenses.

“If we’re going to improve our student achievement and have our students succeed, they have to be in school,” LeRoy said, adding “We need a lot of professional development for both teachers and administrators on respect.”

She said the district is working to find the best ways to reduce such arrests, that she will develop an initial proposal by Aug.15, will give a copy to PEACE and will review it with PEACE by mid-September.

By January 2015, LeRoy said, implementing a finalized proposal can begin.

PEACE is a coalition of 19 churches. Its members research issues and seek collaboration from elected and appointed officials for changes aimed at solving problems.

Emotional statements from several pastors, recalling their own youthful experiences with being punished but not arrested or sharing accounts they have heard from their parishioners, underscored how deeply they feel about what they’re asking in 2014.

“I wouldn’t be here tonight if I had been arrested and not corrected,” said the Rev. Ronnie Clark of Hurst Chapel AME in Winter Haven.

Chief Judge William Bruce Smith gave a more mixed response than Judd or LeRoy.

Smith said he supports making records of first-time minor offenses inaccessible and using evidence-based needs assessments to get necessary services for the children.

He said “no,” however, when asked to take whatever steps are needed on such actions as putting those records in a different records system by May 1.

How it gets done “isn’t entirely my decision,” Smith said, but he will take the issue to his partners in the criminal justice system.

One key partner, State Attorney Jerry Hill, who was invited with the others to PEACE’s 14th annual Nehemiah Action, didn’t come to the standing-room only meeting that brought at least 1,450 people to St. Joseph’s Academy in Lakeland.

PEACE is focusing on Polk’s high number of arrests of youths, which PEACE said was 975 arrests for first-time, minor offenses.

“These kids have a record and these records are getting out,” said the Rev. Cory Britt of First United Methodist Church in Lakeland.

“We are going to need to see significant changes if we are going to see the number 975 go down,” said the Rev. Clifton Dollison of First Missionary Baptist in Winter Haven.

PEACE’s goals are:

Reducing school-based arrests for minor offenses.

Putting youth arrests for first-time minor offenses in a separate “prevention web” instead of the regular juvenile justice database.

Had Hill come, he would have been asked for the same support and actions as Smith. Both are in the 10th Judicial Circuit of Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties. Smith said Polk has an effective system, Teen Court, for pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion.

“I am open to suggestions to make that system even better,” he said. “We are always looking for ways to improve the current system.”

That drew applause despite his not agreeing to the May 1 deadline. The system PEACE is proposing is used in other counties around the state, PEACE said, but Smith said it hadn’t worked in the past in Polk. Dollison thanked Judd for his ongoing support, telling the audience, “The sheriff has demonstrated leadership in this area.”

Judd said arrests of juveniles were down 26 percent. He challenged parents and religious leaders to do more to keep children on track.