Project 180, a Sarasota nonprofit that helps people rebuild their lives after being incarcerated, recently achieved a new milestone. In July, the organization opened a second home for people to stay in after being released from prison or jail.
The nonprofit's first home, Nik's House, opened in 2018. The program, which is intended to last for two years, provides stable housing to up to six people at a time, plus transportation and help finding work. Drug and alcohol addiction recovery programs are also an integral component. The goal is to reduce homelessness, poverty and recidivism.
A 2018 grant from the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation allowed Project 180 to buy Nik's House. That has, in turn, enabled the organization to open Keifer's House, its second residential program. Rent on the new home is being paid with money raised through the Community Foundation of Sarasota County's Giving Partner challenge.
"Having the Baranciks purchase that home for us provided this amazing base from which to build," says Project 180 founder Barbara Richards.
In addition to opening the new home, Project 180 is also testing a new program it's calling First Week Out. Working with the state prison system, the organization is making contact with people due to be released and trying to help them locate safe housing.
"If we're not taking them in, we're doing our best to find housing for them," Richards says. First Week Out, which also helps cover people's basic needs for two weeks after being released, is being supported by the St. Vincent De Paul Society Incarnation Conference and Sarasota's Covenant Mennonite Fellowship. Richards says the program, which is being tested through the end of the year, has been "phenomenal" so far. "This program adheres most truly to our mission," she says.
According to Project 180, approximately five people come home to Sarasota County from a state prison each week, and seven return to Manatee County. Those people often come from unstable families and are dealing with drug and alcohol addiction, and, because of their criminal background, struggle to find a place to live and a job. Many end up committing crimes and returning to prison. More than one quarter of Florida prisoners released in 2016 have since returned to prison, and 61 percent have been re-arrested for a new crime. Nearly half of all current inmates have served time in prison before. Project 180 works to break that cycle.
Richards says the problems caused by recidivism have gained more attention in Sarasota in recent years. She credits Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight for instituting new programs in the jail. Inmates can now obtain identification cards before being released, and the jail has even hosted job fairs to help them find employment. The jail has also expanded programs for inmates seeking help with addiction.
Thirty-two people have entered the Project 180 program since it started. Three have been named a "graduate" of the program, which means they stayed at least six months and one day and have had a "successful discharge." "Our standards are really, really high," Richards says. "There are a lot of other people who are doing really well."
Two people have been arrested while in the program and 14 have been arrested after leaving the program without graduating, all of whom suffered a relapse. That demonstrates the tight grip of drug and alcohol addiction and the importance of recovery to the process of rebuilding one's life.
Richards says Project 180's programs have helped families reconnect. "The family tends to be the first victim of the individual's behavior, and a lot of times the family members give up on the person because they've been exhausted," Richards says. "One of the most rewarding things for me to see is when family relationships are restored."