ENGLEWOOD — A nonprofit organization founded by Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th) and managed by her brother Alfred Ellis is renovating a former Catholic rectory to provide more housing for ex-offenders released from prison.
The two-story, 11,000-square-foot building in the 1800 block of West Garfield Boulevard currently has two ex-offenders living there and two more are expected to move in by Monday, according to Ellis, executive director of REAP Englewood, the acronym standing for Restoring, Elevating, Advancing and Promoting the neighborhood.
Ellis said the facility, which opened August 2013, does not accept ex-offenders convicted of violent or sex crimes, in part because of restrictions on where sex offenders are allowed to live under state law.
REAP has a contract with the Illinois Department of Corrections through November of 2015 allowing the organization to house up to 10 former inmates, although the facility could house up to 44, Ellis said.
The ex-offenders pay nothing to stay there; the state pays $30 per day, Ellis said.
Among the tenants at the facility is Ellis, a a retired parole officer for the Illinois Department of Corrections, who moved in August 2013.
"I decided to move in to be close to the tenants and to learn more about transitional housing for ex-offenders," said Ellis, who previously lived in Lawndale.
Ellis said the organization has assisted ex-offenders obtain state identification cards since 2007.
"We pay the $20 fee for a state ID and $15 [if necessary] to get their birth certificate, which is needed to get a state ID," said Ellis.
Since Aug. 1, 2013 the organization has leased the rectory from the Archdiocese of Chicago with an option to buy, said Susan Burritt, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
"The archdiocese worked closely with REAP’s leadership and Ald. JoAnn Thompson to negotiate the lease agreement for the property to be used as an ex-offender housing facility," Burritt said.
The rectory formerly housed Catholic priests in training. The nearby Catholic church, St. Basil's, was closed in 1990.
Maanasi Laird, a case manager for the re-entry program at the nonprofit Teamwork Englewood, said housing is the biggest barrier for ex-offenders when they are released from prison.
"I can't understand why more organizations are not utilizing abandoned buildings in Englewood to house ex-offenders," she said. "Housing is needed before a job, because without housing it's hard to look for a job."
When it's finished, the facility will have an exercise and computer room and a second TV room, Ellis said. There are shared bedrooms and individual rooms known as suites. Ellis said federal ex-offenders eventually may occupy the suites.
"Those suites could be used for 'high-profile' people like [former U.S. Rep.] Jesse Jackson Jr.," he said.
There is also a living room and a TV viewing area with a large, flat-screen TV for tenants to watch until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday when a curfew takes effect.
"The curfew is extended to 1 a.m. Friday through Sunday. I know we are dealing with adults here, but watching TV all night makes people lazy, and how can you go look for a job if you were up late the night before watching TV?" said Ellis.
Tenants are allowed to stay for 90 days, although Ellis said the time could be extended depending on the circumstances.
Hosea Carabeo is originally from Aurora and moved into the facility October 2013 after completing a 28-month sentence in November 2012 for aggravated robbery. He previously lived at Cornerstone, another ex-offender facility, in Roseland. He said he chose to move to Chicago because of better public transportation and "to get away from my neighborhood and get fresh start somewhere new."
Carabeo, 32, has been allowed to stay at the facility beyond 90 days because he is the house manager, Ellis said.
He is pursuing an associate degree in applied science at Harold Washington College and works as a part-time counselor for a North Side nonprofit organization.
For the alderwoman, a former deputy Cook County sheriff, helping ex-offenders is something she plans to do long after she leaves elected office.
“I love helping people. That is my calling from God,” Thompson said. “This what I do outside of being an alderman.”
The widow, mother and grandmother said her organization would ultimately provide other services, such as job readiness.
“It is very hard for ex-offenders when they come out of prison to find housing and employment, two things needed to get them back on the right path,” added Thompson. “REAP plans to partner with other organizations to offer a wide range of services for them.”
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