Urban Labs grant $2.15 million to Innovation Challenge winners

$1 million of the funding will go to helping former inmates transition back into society.

By Tamar Honig

On October 12, UChicago Urban Labs announced the winners of $2.15 million in Innovation Challenge grants from the Health, Poverty, and Energy & Environment Labs.

The largest grant of $1 million will go to Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, in partnership with the Heartland Alliance and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. It will establish a “Supportive Release Center,” the aim of which is to help former inmates with mental illnesses transit back into society following their release from the Cook County Jail.

The other Innovation Challenge grant recipients are the Chicago Jobs Council and Elevate Energy, in partnership with ComEd. These entities proposed innovative solutions to other areas of urban policy problems.

UChicago Urban Labs consists of five labs, each focused on identifying and testing the most effective policies and programs within an area of urban policy: crime, education, energy & environment, health, and poverty. The 2015 Urban Labs Innovation Challenge, announced in March, called on civic organizations and agencies to propose strategies for addressing one of these focus areas.

“Our basic mission is to help cities make smarter bets to improve human lives…The Innovation Challenge is our effort to crowd-source the most promising ideas for addressing core urban challenges, rigorously evaluate them and help community leaders scale up the policies and programs that matter most,” said Timothy Knowles, director of the Urban Labs.

Ruth Coffman, executive director of the Health Lab, elaborated on the proposed mission of the Supportive Release Center, which will principally seek to serve those with mental and behavioral health problems who cycle in and out of jail.

“The Supportive Release Center will consist of a safe space for someone to sleep after being released from the jail late at night. Hot showers and food will be available. In the morning, caseworkers will work with individuals to link them up to supportive services, such as social workers, medication, and doctor’s appointments… We are hoping that, if the SRC can connect detainees to the right services, they will be able to get the kind of specific help that they need,” Coffman said.

The Chicago Jobs Council will use its $500,000 grant from the Poverty Lab to implement a workforce development program called “Transforming Impossible into Possible,” which will help the long-term unemployed overcome psychological barriers to return to work. Elevate Energy will use its $650,000 grant from the Energy & Environment Lab to help low-income households save money while increasing energy efficiency.