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Money from restorative justice marijuana tax flows to McLean County YWCA

Dontae speaks

McLean County is getting more legal marijuana tax money than just the amounts going to Bloomington and Normal. The YWCA of McLean County will receive more than $282,000 for its Labyrinth Outreach Services that helps women coming out of prison reintegrate into the community.

It's part of a round of state grants through the Restore, Reinvest, and Renew program that go to communities that have high levels of economic inequality, incarceration, and individual violence.

YWCA program director Kara Alt said the money will give the agency the opportunity to work with more clients, do extra outreach and offer more resources and supplies for clients.

"We will be able to provide monthly bus passes for them and some emergency needs, as well as being able to help them get their birth certificates and IDs and things like that things that they need to be able to become independent," said Alt.

Currently, YWCA Labyrinth Outreach houses up to eight women in its transitional living program. When they have done outreach in the past, Alt said they served an average of 30 to 35 women per month who already live in the community and need support. She said the grant will restore that capacity.

"It will allow us to expand more into the rural communities. McLean County is a huge county. We have 22 communities. And that will allow us to be able to travel to those smaller communities, and help with transportation back to court dates and things like that," said Alt.

The intent for such grants is to address conditions created in part by disparate enforcement of laws during the war on drugs. The Restore, Reinvest, Renew (R3) program provides 25% of cannabis revenue taxes for grants to support communities whose inhabitants have experienced, or continue to experience, high levels of incarceration, economic inequality, and individual violence.

A goal of the effort is to shift from punitive approaches to crime and incarceration to restorative, rehabilitative, and public health approaches, including investments in education, jobs, and housing.

"Our whole program focuses on building independence. If they have needs in regard to substance abuse treatment, or mental health, or even just getting back to like a general doctor and taking care of any physical health needs, we are able to help them with that. And especially in transitional housing," said Alt. "And once they have built a really solid foundation, we help them get a job or go back and get more schooling."

Alt said a lot of women in Labyrinth have said the support they received is support they've never had before from anyone.

"We were able to work with a woman who did live in our program. And she did relapse at one point and ended up moving out for a period of time while she went to substance abuse treatment. Upon completing treatment, we had been in touch with her and she moved back into our program and has reconnected with her family. She was able to get her license back, purchase a vehicle and ... she's maintaining a full-time job right now," said Alt.

Alt said current staffing is two people, but the grant will allow the YWCA to hire a full-time outreach coordinator and four part-time specialists.

She also hopes to expand efforts to connect women with mentors and others in the community who can be positive influences and friends to them.

"But we're also here for one-time needs, or emergency needs or crisis intervention for someone who is coming back from prison who may be doing very well but runs into a bump in the road where they might need just one thing to help them move forward. We can be here for that as well," said Alt.

In this round of grants, the state awarded $43 million to 148 programs. There were 512 applications, according to the state. Those funded are less than a third of the total requests made for the money.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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