Non-profit Schenenectady unveils new program to help those in need

Non-profit Schenenectady unveils new program to help those in need

SCHENECTADY – A person who is homeless or struggling with mental health issues or poverty could access several services under a national diversion program recently implemented in the city.

Life’s Alternative Schenectady LEAD program – now as Let Everyone Advance with Dignity – is a partnership between law enforcement and social service agencies with the goal of connecting a person in crisis with organizations that can help her overcome addiction, mental health, poverty and homelessness. For a long time, the initiative was known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.

“When police come into contact with an individual, they see one of four reasons that are the underlying trigger for that person’s actions, which are homelessness, substance abuse, poverty and mental health,” he said. said Jamel Muhammad, executive director of the Youth LIFE Support Network. , which oversees Life’s Alternative. The nonprofit organization focuses on public safety and works with high-risk youth and their families, according to its website.

Muhammad said it is at the discretion of the city patrol officer or sheriff’s deputy, who will receive on-the-job training, to determine if a person is a candidate for the program. Police will contact Muhammad before driving the person to a so-called transfer station in Schenectady to drop them off to meet Kareem Graham, a reception and outreach coordinator.

“Once I get the call, I contact Kareem, he will go to the transfer post with the documents he needs the person to sign as well as the appointment schedule to put him on an appointment with the case manager,” he said, adding that the admissions process must take place within the required 30 days. “Once we signed off that we have full intake, meaning we are committed to the individual, that charge is now dismissed.”

If a person skips the meeting with the case manager, the case will be in the hands of the police, prosecutors and the public defender’s office.

Muhammad and Graham were among a disparate group of stakeholders, including Mayor Gary McCarthy and Schenectady County Deputy Sheriff Jim Barrett, who met earlier last week at Schenectady City Hall, to review the program and define critical next steps.

“It’s a way to more appropriately manage a subset of individuals who would be arrested when returning them to the criminal justice system isn’t necessarily going to solve the problem or create long-term solutions for them,” he said. he said in a telephone interview on Friday. , adding “I believe this is an area where we can better manage public resources.”

For example, Schenectady Police should still develop their training policy, as well as the paperwork and protocol that the arresting officer should complete and follow for anyone they recommend for diversion.

Former Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox, who is currently the National LEAD Coordinator, joined the rally by phone.

Muhammad stressed that being a convicted felon does not automatically bar someone from being considered for diversion, especially if they can establish that essential factors are at play.

He said Life’s Alternative, which has been in existence for three months and has an operating budget of $600,000, half city and half county, is not open to people dealing with sex crimes. .

Besides the prospect of being arrested, there are other avenues in the fledgling program.

A defendant could be turned away during booking, where the agent, after interviewing him, decides he might be a good fit for the program. Or a person can refer someone they know or see in the community; and a person can reach out to obtain services for themselves.

To date, four people have participated in the program.

Muhammad praised Sheriff Dom Dagostino and his office for being an integral part of the 18-month planning process to get the project off the ground.

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