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U. of C. to Spend $1 Million on Helping, Studying Mentally Ill Leaving Jail

By Sam Cholke | October 13, 2015 3:39pm
 The Urban Lab will pay $1 million for a program for mentally ill inmates leaving Cook County Jail and study its effectiveness.
The Urban Lab will pay $1 million for a program for mentally ill inmates leaving Cook County Jail and study its effectiveness.
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DNAinfo/Tanveer Ali

HYDE PARK — The Urban Labs at the University of Chicago announced Monday $2.15 million in funding for groups claiming to have innovative solutions to vexing city problems.

The lab announced Monday the three groups that won a design competition and will get grants ranging from $500,000 to $1 million to help former inmates with mental illness leaving prison, identify psychological barriers extending joblessness amongst the unemployed and reduce energy usage in low-income families.

“The Innovation Challenge is a way to ‘crowd source’ urban policy innovation, harnessing the best collective ideas of front-line practitioners and urban policymakers to learn which approaches work, and then scaling up the programs that have the greatest social impact,” said Timothy Knowles, director of the Urban Labs.

The largest grant, $1 million, will go to Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities partnership with Heartland Alliance and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to create a “Supportive Release Center,” which will help former inmates with mental illness transition back into society after being released from Cook County Jail.

The Chicago Jobs Council will use its $500,000 grant to continue developing curriculum and job training for the long-term unemployed, who often face significant psychological barriers when trying to return to work.

“We want to completely turn on its head the practice of using initial engagement to screen for only those candidates who are “motivated” enough,” the group said in response to the grant award. “It is a chance to challenge the faulty paradigm that condemns those who have lost hope as forever hopeless.”

The final grant is for a partnership between Elevate Energy and ComEd, which will use $650,000 to find incentives for low-income families to increase their energy efficiency and increase the chances of paying utility bills on time.

All three projects will be rigorously monitored and analyzed in the hopes that the university’s researchers will be able to find data that proves is and isn’t working in programs geared to address urban problems.

The three groups all competed in the Innovation Challenge in March, a search by the lab to find organizations with compelling ideas for urban problems in need of funding and the academic firepower to prove what was working and what wasn’t.

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