HOPE Nehemiah Action Follow Up
We had 37 people from Wesley attend HOPE’s premier event, the Nehemiah Action, last Monday. Over 1800 people gathered virtually and heard powerful testimonials as well as objective data in support of the proposals we presented to the community leaders in attendance.
On the issue of criminal justice reform, State Attorney Andrew Warren, Public Defender Julianne Holt, Chief Judge Ron Ficarrotta, and Clerk of Court Cindy Stuart all enthusiastically agreed to reduce unnecessary arrests of children eligible to receive a civil citation for first time, minor misdemeanor offenses by supporting a viable secondary eligibility screening. These stakeholders acknowledged that in 2019 and 2020 in Hillsborough County, 770 children who were eligible to receive a civil citation were instead formally arrested, branding them with a lifetime criminal record. A citation holds the child accountable by requiring community service and counseling and taxpayers save $4600 for each citation issued. These officials also agreed to work with us to find ways to reduce unnecessary adult arrests, particularly for driver’s license suspensions due to unpaid fines and fees. They also agreed to attend a summit with Dr. Jack McDevitt of Northeastern University to explore tools to address community interactions with law enforcement. We were disappointed that Sheriff Chronister and Tampa Police Chief Dugan could not attend the Nehemiah Action, but we are encouraged that they are both open to working with us on these issues as well.
As to improving access to mental health and addiction treatment, County Commissioners Pat Kemp, Kimberly Overman and Mariella Smith enthusiastically agreed to work with county staff to identify local funds in the 2022 county budget to establish an internationally accredited Recovery Through Work Clubhouse in Hillsborough County, and to meet with HOPE leaders before the end of May to discuss this budget request further. The international Clubhouse model is recognized as a best practice for promoting the economic and social stability of people with severe mental illness while protecting their dignity and quality of life. It is proven to decrease ER visits, Baker Acts, arrests, and homelessness by offering people a positive social support, job training, and assistance in employment and housing. The employment rate of members in a Clubhouse community is 5 times that of nonmembers.
We still have a long way to go, but it is great to see God’s hand at work on these issues. If you would like more information about our HOPE ministry, contact Carol Dittmar at 813-499-7167.