jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Martha Okafor (jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

One of the new initiative’s goals in New Haven, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said Thursday, will be to reduce recidivism by 50 percent over a five-year period.

Murphy was on hand at the New Haven Opportunity Center for the official opening of part of the center’s programming — job training for recently incarcerated people.

The center, located in the Dixwell Avenue neighborhood, is there to provide services for everyone in the city. But one of its main missions will be helping those recently released from jail, including military veterans, to find jobs and housing.

Community Services Administrator Martha Okafor, who along with Murphy, showed off the new building, said: “This building will bring people together. When we first started talking about having this center, we listened to what people had to say — which was build this center in the neighborhood, not downtown in City Hall.”

The resource center, which actually opened a few days ago, will, Okafor and others said, provide federal-and-state-funded employment, financial empowerment, housing, education, and re-entry services to New Haven residents.

The city spent $72,000 renovating the building and will staff it with eight workers from New Haven’s payroll.

The building will offer help for those from the neighborhood looking to enroll in state welfare and health programs, neighborhood programs and programs run by the Community Action Agency, MOMS Partnership, and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress.

The center is coordinated by the city of New Haven in conjunction with the state of Connecticut, the United Way 2-1-1, and in partnerships with nonprofit community service providers.

A big component of the center’s work will be utilizing a $1 million federal grant, which Murphy helped secure through a Second Chance Act initiative from the U.S. Department of Justice. Murphy said it represents a local restructuring of ongoing initiatives operating over the last decade.

Murphy said reducing recidivism is one of the goals of the program, which is called the Warren Kimbro Second Chance Re-Entry Initiative. They are partnered with the Connecticut Department of Correction to connect with New Haven residents up to 12 months prior to their release. Additionally, 40 community partners will collaborate using a data system to track outcomes of those enrolled in the program.

Kimbro is the former executive director of Project More, Inc., a program that worked reintegrating formerly incarcerated men and women.

To be eligible for the re-entry program, enrollees must be New Haven residents, sign up two to six months prior to their release from prison, plan on living in New Haven upon their release, and they “must be motivated to change behaviors that led to incarceration.”

The dedication ceremony got underway about an hour later than scheduled, because Murphy was late travelling back from Philadelphia, where he gave a speech on gun control at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday.

Admitting that he was a “bit tired,” Murphy said the Dixwell Avenue center was an important initiative “to breaking down the geographic barriers that exist to getting people the kind of job, education and mental health reform help they need.”

“I’ve been really excited about this center opening ever since I first heard about it,” Murphy added.

Besides offering support and programs for those leaving the prison system, the center is expected to benefit military veterans with outreach programs targeted toward helping them find jobs and education.

jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Sean Connolly, state Commissioner of Veterans Affairs (jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Sean Connolly, who was in attendance at the center dedication, like others who spoke, said it is increasingly important than sites such as the Dixwell Avenue one open for military veterans to use.

“We have to become more mobile to those we help serve,” Connolly said. “We need to meet the vets where they are. We can’t expect them to always travel to us.”

Murphy staffer Laura Maloney said the operation center will house other federally-funded programs, whether it’s through Medicaid for mental health treatments or similar initiatives. “So in total,’’ Maloney said, “there will be a lot of city, state and federal funded programs that are currently offered in fragmented service organizations, now all under one roof.”

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murphy said he is hopeful that legislation will pass in the next session of Congress that will secure more money for the center’s usage.

The center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Fridays. The center can be reached at 203-946-8592 or by email at nhoc@newhavenct.gov. It also has a website – www.getconnectednewhaven.com.