- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) - McLean County Board member Victoria Harris was looking for an opportunity to make a difference when she attended a recent McLean County Drug Court graduation.

There, she met a man who needed someone who would give him a second chance.

“I’m interested in doing something about the homeless situation. I asked if there was anyone at the graduation who was homeless, because I’d like to give them a job,” said Harris, of Bloomington, who represents County Board District 7.

Enter Chris Kallas, 32, who needed a full-time job.

“I was walking by at the perfect time,” said Kallas, introduced to Harris by drug court coordinator Jodi Cooper.

The next day, Harris hired Kallas for landscaping, painting and drywall at her home. She was so satisfied with the results that she referred Kallas to general contractor Chuck Lansing, who looked at Kallas’ work on her garage ceiling.

“It looked like he had some good drywall skills,” said Lansing, who since has connected Kallas with a local drywall company.

“I believe in giving people a second chance. Everyone has done something in their life they’re not happy with,” said Lansing.

Cooper estimated that 16 of 37 drug court participants are looking for jobs. Criminal records that include felony drug charges and theft convictions for crimes committed to support a drug habit are an obstacle to employment, Cooper acknowledged.

The pool of potential workers includes skilled laborers with experience in construction, painting and food and cleaning services, said Cooper.

“They are some of the hardest workers but it’s finding someone to give them a chance that’s difficult,” said Cooper. The intense monitoring of drug court clients adds to their reliability as workers, she said.

Three months’ clean of drugs and 19 months sober, Kallas is working to rebuild a life that fell like dominoes because of his addictions. Shattered family relationships, homelessness and a 2013 drug charge are consequences of a habit Kallas works daily to overcome.

“I’ve been homeless for a little over a year, bouncing from couch to couch. The only thing I’ve ever owned is a piece of junk car,” said Kallas, who has a lead on a mobile home that may be in his price range.

Harris urges people in the community to use their resources, whether through employing people directly or linking people with a potential job, to help those who are struggling.

Discussions about homelessness, mental illness and addiction help raise awareness, said Harris, but personal involvement can make a greater difference in an individual’s life.

“So far we have been armchair philosophers. Now it’s time to get busy and take some action,” said Harris, a retired English professor with Illinois State University.

McLean County Drug Court opened in 2006 for people whose criminal offenses are linked to an addiction. They receive help with counseling, employment and housing during a probation term that lasts about two years. Two defendants celebrated their completion of the program on March 5.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1JIeXw5

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com


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