Many of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods are composed of a significant percentage of people recently released from prison. There are insufficient services to meet the needs of this population, and there is insufficient communication about available services. The goal for the City Accelerator project in Baltimore was to repair the interface between reentering citizens and government.
The project emphasized inclusion through a series of focus groups with those who had recently reentered Baltimore’s neighborhoods in the last 90 days. These focus groups sought to understand current gaps and potential solutions in communication by asking how people came to find out about the resources and services available to them, such as housing, healthcare, and employment. These conversations revealed that many formerly incarcerated people were unaware of the various reentry services available across the city, and the majority of individuals who did know, learned about them through word-of-mouth. Acting on this information, the city employed returning citizens to help co-develop solutions to fill this critical information gap. Through a Design Day approach (also used in the New Orleans and Albuquerque projects), Baltimore developed an online mobile advocacy site, Here 4 Reentry, for reentering citizens to learn about, share and evaluate all available resources.
Here 4 Reentry won top prize at the Kaiser Permanente Social Innovation Challenge and was accepted into their exclusive social tech incubator program. Inspired by the community-based participatory research approach and eager to support the longevity of this work, the Baltimore Health Department has also welcomed Here 4 Reentry into their new TECH health initiative. As with all public engagement projects, there were significant hurdles. The team underwent leadership change three times over the course of one year. Had the project not been championed ultimately by the final team leader, it may not have succeeded to nearly the same degree. In this way, Baltimore’s story represents how vital leadership is for the work of public engagement. It can’t be done without the passion of leaders driving it.