The barbed wire and gates at a county-owned building along 31st Street send the wrong message, so it won’t become the home of Sheriff Tom Dart’s Community Resource Center.
The center’s mission, after all, is to offer open arms to all who’ve been released from Cook County Jail in the hope they will let Dart’s team connect them with social services to combat issues ranging from addiction to homelessness.
But all are welcome, not just those who end up in his jail.
The one-stop support agency has been quietly functioning since September on a mostly virtual basis. Dart held a news conference downtown Wednesday to get the word out.
“We just want the public to be wildly aware of the fact that this resource is out there for them,” Dart said. “So whether or not you have any connection to the criminal justice system whatsoever, this is something you can take advantage of.”
His goal is to make face-to-face interaction a key component that will allow for meaningful connections and change the trajectory of many lives.
“If I had my dream, we’d build a new building,” Dart said. “But we have no money for it.”
His plan is realistic. He hopes to place a trailer on a plot of land about a block from the jail by the end of the year and make the spot as attractive to visitors as possible.
The Community Resource Center’s logo, by design, does not contain the yellow law enforcement star of Cook County sheriff’s office.
“It has to have that sort of feel to it where it’s welcoming, not correctional,” Dart said.
Bail reform has led to a major drop in the jail population and allowed Dart to assign some workers to help staff the center. It has a staff of 17 and about 1,000 clients.
In years past, the jail regularly housed about 12,000 people. That number is now consistently at 5,700.
The bail reforms have also resulted in many detainees being released within hours, making it harder for Dart’s staff to offer social services. Information about the center is now baked into the release process.
“Once people are no longer in my custody, they don’t have to even talk to me, they can just leave. And we just try to work with them and say “Listen ... we want to help you.,” Dart said.