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New documentary explores barriers to reentry in Orange County

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Students celebrating UNC's basketball team triumphs over Duke prepare to rush Franklin Street on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, while an unhoused man sits under an awning to stay out of the rain.

On Wednesday, the Orange County Local Reentry Council held a premiere of “Welcome Home?” — a documentary focused on the barriers to housing for individuals who have been incarcerated — and a panel discussion to celebrate North Carolina’s Second Chance Month.

The LRC is part of the Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Department. The council works to help individuals through the reintegration process by offering case management services and connecting people to community services. 

"Welcome Home?" focuses on the experiences of the unhoused population in Orange County and discusses the struggles those who are exiting the justice system face. According to the documentary, the unhoused population in the county has seen a 40 percent increase since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s a complicated thing and I appreciate that we were looking specifically at reentry, but it’s bigger than that in Orange County,” said Donna Campbell, the documentary’s producer and editor. 

Campbell said the LRC asked her if she would be able to create something to represent the housing crisis for individuals in reentry. She said that she spoke with individuals who are experiencing homelessness, community advocates and formerly unhoused people.

“We went out and met people on the streets who, frankly could be people that I've grown up with, people that I could know in North Carolina who just don't have housing, and they’re living in their cars, they're living on the street,” she said.

She added that while the 17-minute documentary will be enough to spark conversations about reentry, the work is just beginning.

"There is more we need to learn about and talk about," Campbell said. 

Tiffany Bullard, the LRC case manager, said that people exiting the criminal justice system and re-entering their communities are often forced to find housing in other counties.

“There's just so much wealth saturated in Orange County and it is embarrassing and it's shameful to see all of these people coming home, who can't find anywhere to go, who can't access affordable housing,” Bullard said. 

After the showing, there was a discussion with panelists from the Vera Institute of Justice, Community Empowerment Fund, Alliance Health, Orange County Housing Department and other organizations.

Bullard said that the panelists were asked questions about how each of their work contributes to decreasing housing barriers, legislation that has been drafted for people who have had involvement in the justice system and how Orange County can create more affordable housing options.

The event was moderated by Georgann Eubanks, one of the documentary’s producers, and was hosted at the Seymour Center.

Campbell said that there were numerous people in attendance, including Chapel Hill Town Council members, Orange County commissioners and social workers.

Each year, the CJRD hosts events to raise awareness around the struggles faced during reentry, Caitlin Fenhagen, criminal justice resource director, said.

On April 12, the department held another reentry awareness event. During this event, Fenhagen said legislators spoke at the Century Center about H.B. 836, which will help formerly incarcerated individuals by providing them a stipend of up to $3,000 and creating more local reentry councils across the state.

“We want to encourage people to come back into our communities to be successful, and to do that, we have to really look at some of the barriers that they face as having been incarcerated and having a criminal record,” Fenhagen said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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