Case aide Ricky Maltese helps formerly incarcerated clients find, secure housing

For Ricky Maltese, the most rewarding part of his job as a case aide at BEDS Plus Care is helping clients through the process of finding housing and seeing how grateful they are when they find a place to call home.

Ricky joined the BEDS staff in June and works with the justice involved housing program. The program helps those who have been formerly incarcerated find and secure housing, while providing other case management and support services at the same time.

"I think a lot of people have preconceived notions of people who are homeless," Ricky said. "They just think that they're homeless as a result of bad decisions that they have made in the past, which could be true. But people deserve a second chance, especially the JAC population."

Funding for the program comes in part from the Justice Advisory Council of Cook County, which awards grants in the areas of violence prevention, recidivism reduction and restorative justice. At the core is the understanding that Cook County should spend less of its budget on incarceration, which destabilizes families and communities, and more on properly assessing and supporting those who could return to their families and communities at little to no risk to overall public safety. The Cook County Justice Advisory Council works collaboratively with key stakeholders to reduce the population of the Cook County Jail and Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, while ensuring systematic and community supports to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

Incarceration and homelessness are intimately linked. Formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public, according to a report by Lucius Couloute of the Prison Policy Initiative. Causes of homelessness among the formerly incarcerated include discrimination, a reliance on criminal records to screen potential tenants, the shortage of affordable housing, large security deposits, and other application requirements such as professional references.

While homelessness is a primary barrier to re-entry for formerly incarcerated individuals, BEDS provides the stability critical to recovery and successful re-entry through our programs.

"It is always gratifying to know that an agency that we partnered with impacted someone in the community in need in real time," said Justice Advisory Council Grant Monitor Wynetta Scales.

Last year, BEDS formalized the coordinated Street Outreach program with the addition of a full-time manager of emergency services and street outreach, a case aid and four full-time street outreach workers. BEDS anticipates an increase in the number of formerly incarcerated individuals among our clients with the expanded Street Outreach program.

"Obviously, housing is something that people who are just being released are lacking," Ricky said. "They don't have anywhere to go in terms of family so they typically stay at halfway houses."

Ricky, who first learned about BEDS while working at an internship at a local police department, said he always wanted to work with the homeless population and those who are working through addiction, mental health and other issues.

Much of his job involves case management with clients. Sometimes, he meets with clients at BEDS but other times he will meet them at their homes. They go over needs assessments, employment, personal plans and goals, among other things. Ricky also helps clients to find and furnish housing. He frequently takes clients to the Chicago Furniture Bank to help them pick out furniture before move-in day.

"My clients are motivated and determined," he said. "Housing is security for them and they know a successful placement will keep them from falling back into the criminal justice system again."

The program offers graduated support to clients over the course of a year. Initially, BEDS covers the cost of housing but after three months, those costs are gradually shifted to the client. Clients in the program are offered a variety of resources, everything from case management to help with job searches to lessons on how to budget money. The program's goal is to support and stabilize clients so they can work to put their lives back together.

Ricky said the assistance is ongoing until clients are stable enough to manage on their own.

"Everybody's case is different" he said.

One of the most surprising things Ricky has found on the job is the bonding that occurs between clients and BEDS staff. Delivering food to clients and helping them arrange furniture after moving into housing often feels more like socialization than case management.

"They have come so far and it's rewarding just to help them through the process of finding a home," Ricky said.

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