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Bridgeport says pandemic relief dollars help residents get back on their feet after serving time

Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
Representatives from various organizations receiving federal funding listen as Kenny Jackson, an outreach coordinator with RYASAP speaks at a panel for organizations helping people reintegrate into society after leaving prison on 4/18/2023 in Bridgeport, Conn.

Money from the American Rescue Plan Act has been used to help fund schools and aid families across the state. In Bridgeport, it's also led to several nonprofits keeping people out of prison.

On Tuesday, at least 10 nonprofits discussed how American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money helped their reentry programs. The panel met during “Re-entry Awareness Month,” which focuses attention on the efforts to aid formerly incarcerated people.

“It is clear from the meeting today that the city’s ARPA dollars are being well spent by these entities and that they are providing services that are essential to returning citizens becoming productive members of society,” said Earl Bloodworth, director of the Mayor’s Initiative for Reentry Affairs, also known as "MIRA."

While the groups had different needs and outcomes, all said they’ve made tangible impacts on people’s lives.

But while more groups have been able to help more people, Bloodworth said housing remains a major issue for people released from prison.

He's trying to expand access and resources to address the problem.

“You're hard pressed to tell these folks that you need to get a job, or you need to go to some type of training, or you need to go to the doctor, and they don't have a roof over their head and know where their next meal is coming from,” Bloodworth said.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim was slated to appear at the panel. According to the mayor’s office, Ganim had another scheduling conflict. Ganim established MIRA in 2016, months after winning the mayoral election for the first time since he left prison after being convicted for corruption in 2003 during his first tenure as mayor.

Other organizations said ARPA funding allowed them to expand programs.

Tiheba Bain, founder of Women Against Mass Incarceration, said her group is unique because it focuses on incarcerated women. It has long focused on getting housing assistance for women, but was recently able to get a bus to transport members to different locations.

Now, she’s working on planning a getaway for them.

“We're looking to take them somewhere this summer," Bain said. "We just got to figure out where we're going to go.”

But it’s not just trips that ARPA made possible. Other nonprofits and organizations were able to expand their reach.

Shivonne Annan is the president and CEO of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. She said because of ARPA, her organization was able to help 1,100 people.

Now, she wants to coordinate efforts with other organizations to expand services.

“We're looking for greater support because we would like to offer job training, but we see that a lot of that already exists. So it's a matter of connecting with the folks at the table,” Annan said.

As programs have expanded, so has demand, according to the nonprofits who spoke.

MIRA, the organization Bloodworth is a part of, recently had to hire Jennifer Gonzalez as a clerical assistant to help clear backed up requests. Prior to her arrival, it was just Bloodworth at the department. She answered emails at the MIRA offices as music softly played from a speaker.

“Right now I'm just trying to help gain some order in here so we can better assist our clients,” Gonzalez said.

For many formerly incarcerated people, the help with reentry has been life affirming. Maurice Keitt came out of prison in 2018 and he ended up getting job skills training from MIRA. Doing so, he said, has led to a steady job.

“I am a licensed insurance agent to the state of Connecticut," Keitt said.