VOCAL-NY Believes Supportive Housing and Addiction Services Can Be an Alternative to Rikers, Village Voice Reports

Posted on January 9, 2018

The Man Who’s Been Sent to Rikers 100 Times

Originally Published in The Village Voice on January 9, 2017
Written by Theodore Hamm

“I’m tired of it,” Victor Alvarez says regarding Rikers Island, the 85-year-old jail complex that City Hall has slated for closure by 2027. Such a sentiment is not surprising, given that by his own count, Alvarez has been sent to Rikers 102 times, mostly in the last fifteen years. Almost 50, homeless, and Puerto Rican, Alvarez, who grew up in Brooklyn, represents several leading demographic groups that keep sending bodies to Rikers. According to the 2017 report of the Lippmann Commission (formed by the City Council to study the jail complex’s possible closure), 41 percent of the city’s jail population is age 36 or older, 34 percent is Latino, and 22 percent is from Brooklyn. Alvarez has also been subjected to a series of low-level misdemeanor charges that, according to the commission, end up clogging the courts with defendants “stuck in a cycle of arrests and short jail sentences.” The report also noted that many of these people are, like Alvarez, dealing with homelessness and substance abuse. By day, Alvarez can be found at the office of VOCAL-NY, an advocacy organization that works with people who use substances, many of whom are also both formerly incarcerated and homeless. According to Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, what people like Alvarez need is expanded funding for supportive housing, which provides addiction services on-site. The solutions to Alvarez’s problems are complex, and costly, but they are ultimately much less wasteful than sending him back to Rikers.

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