Bridging the Gap Between Criminal Justice and Food Insecurity: Exodus Transitional Community

by Lily Zaballos

Name: Exodus Transitional Community 

What they do: Exodus Transitional Community is a community organization with 22 years of experience working with adults and young adults with criminal justice system involvement, and disconnected young people (under 18 years old), at risk of criminal justice involvement. One thing all their participants have in common is the exposure to primary and secondary untreated trauma. Exodus works to address the structural violence, institutionalized racism, and poverty that their participants face, and that creates a culture of inequality leaving major gaps in a service delivery system that has traditionally failed to address the needs of low income communities of color. 

Their founder and Executive Director, Julio Medina grew up in the Patterson Houses projects. As with many other young Puerto Rican males from the South Bronx, the community to prison pipeline landed him in prison where he spent 12 years behind bars, and saw first-hand the impact of trauma on people from marginalized communities such as his own — both the trauma of the streets, and the trauma of incarceration.  This led him to create Exodus Transitional Community in order to build a community of individuals who have lived the experience of incarceration and trauma, and, as wounded healers, are able to help others heal and rebuild their lives, and to restore their hope.

How they do it: Exodus Transitional Community is located in East Harlem, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie, NY — communities with a high number of formerly incarcerated people, and high poverty rates. They provide a variety of programs including preventative, re-entry and advocacy services for criminal justice impacted individuals.

Most of the population they serve is returning from incarceration without any source of income, or youth of color at-risk of incarceration and living in poverty.

Mission: From their website, “With a firm belief in human resilience, Exodus Transitional Community delivers innovative programming tailored to adults and youth affected by the justice system, and advocates for a society in which all can achieve social, economic, and spiritual well–being.”

Latest project/campaign: In August of 2020, Exodus Transitional Community was selected to receive a prestigious Center for Trauma Innovation grant award in the amount of $8 million over 3.5 years from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (“CJII”). This is part of the DA’s strategy to invest in transformative criminal justice projects that improve public safety, prevent crime, and promote a fair and efficient justice system. The CTI is a one-of-a-kind Center for Trauma Innovation that will be located at the Exodus East Harlem HUB, and will address underlying trauma, and promote healing and resiliency in underserved communities, helping to interrupt cycles of violence and provide crucial resources during this period of increased gun violence in New York City. Numerous studies link surviving or witnessing abuse to subsequent arrest or incarceration. In one example, a recent study examining the prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among the prison population found that nearly half of the incarcerated men had experienced some sort of physical trauma prior to incarceration. However, there is a dearth of resources tailored to the experiences and needs of individuals exposed to trauma, and particularly people of color exposed to trauma.

Housed within Exodus Transitional Community’s East Harlem headquarters, the CTI will offer free, extensive, evidence-based clinical and non-clinical therapies addressing trauma tailored to communities of color, particularly justice involving individuals, young people, members of the LGBTQIA community, and immigrants. Community-based healing staff will engage in traditional and non-traditional forms of physical, psychological, and emotional healing. The CTI will build relationships with the community through as many access points as possible and pursue creative means to engage in healing work. In addition to treating hundreds of New Yorkers, the CTI will provide training and technical assistance to New York City agencies and other community-based organizations to be more competent in working with people who have experienced trauma. It will also create a Trauma Innovation Learning Community that brings together national leaders in this field to contribute new research about this underserved population, and develop best-practices.

COVID-19 Response Initiatives: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult and uncertain time for everyone, but in particular for individuals who are justice-impacted. Most of the population Exodus Transitional Community serves is returning from incarceration without any source of income. With the COVID-19 crisis, the need for services is greater than ever, and the need for nutritious food and employment has reached crisis proportions. Because of this, Exodus made a commitment to keep their doors open and to partner with others to make food availability, and volunteer/ employment opportunities a priority. Already vulnerable, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the population Exodus serves has relied on the organization even more to help them meet their daily needs, such as food, clothing, jobs, substance use treatment and housing. Yet, Exodus is the only reentry organization in NYC to keep their doors open since day one of the pandemic, while making the necessary adjustments to keep participants engaged and connected during the crisis. They also opened 4 reentry hotels in NYC that are currently housing over 500 individuals released from Rikers Island and NYS Prisons in the midst of the pandemic who would otherwise be homeless. From March-December 2020 they provided the following services:

  • 842 individuals released from Rikers Island and NYS Prisons to NYC re-entry hotels due to COVID-19 were provided a safe and secure hotel room with 24/7case management and food, hygiene kits, PPE, and clothing.
  • 16,000 meals for people coming home from prison/jail, and experiencing food insecurity at our East Harlem Office.
  • 3,000 Metro Cards and other forms of transportation provided for people in need of transportation to manage appointments, and arrive safely to their destinations during this citywide lockdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 852 people walked through our doors and received vital in-person services by their caring staff during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic when most other service providers had shut their doors.
  • 318 people were placed into jobs upon completion of their Reentry Employment Readiness Program.

Major Funding: Government Contracts, Individual and Corporate Donors, Foundations, Medicaid

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual budget: $21,405,173

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: Exodus Transitional Community continues to address issues that intersect food justice and social justice. Food insecurity has impacted justice-impacted communities for decades. Every Wednesday, Exodus hands out free fresh vegetables, canned goods and prepared food trays in the front of their East Harlem office – between 123rd and 124th on Third Avenue. Their newest addition to tackling food insecurity includes their Tower Gardens. Each tower grows different types of lettuce and vegetables that they plan to provide as healthy alternatives to youth and adult participants. 

FACT SHEET

Location: East Harlem, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh 

Core Programs: Housing, workforce development, youth empowerment, outpatient substance use disorder treatment, New York County Reentry Task Force (NYCRTF), Alternatives to Incarceration (AIT), Jail-based and reentry services, food distributions, and Center for Trauma Innovation. 

Number of staff: 130

Number of volunteers: 10-15

Community members served per month: 500

Areas served: Along the Hudson River corridor from Poughkeepsie, New York to East Harlem in New York City.

Date started: 1999

Director: Julio Medina, Founder & CEO  

Contact information: [email protected]

Website: https://www.etcny.org

Social Media Handles and Channel URLS 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/etcnyorg/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/etcnyorg

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/exodus-transitional-community-inc-/

Instagram: @etcnyorg 

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQOQI8Gb1FUluHlz-47fNjA

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