Free transit helps ex-offenders in KCK make the most of their second chance

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Social workers say one of the biggest barriers preventing former felons from leading a law-abiding life is transportation.

A new zero-fare transit program seeks to help those who've served their time become productive citizens.

The Village Initiative set up in the heart of KCK's urban core because this is where many released prisoners end up. Last year, the program helped 556 returning citizens with job training, parenting classes and mental health counseling.

But the safety net service quickly learned that all the preparation doesn't mean much if ex-offenders can't get to a job, or to their appointments with parole officers and doctors.

"The fact is that, when they come out, they don’t have any income," program director Chanelle McKinley said. "So they don’t have any money for the bus. Even getting a dollar or two is overwhelming. Even the bus system is overwhelming. How can I get to where I need to get to, and make my appointments if I don’t have transportation?"

Now the Area Transportation Authority is providing so-called opportunity passes to re-entry programs and social service agencies.

With a bus stop across the street from the Village Initiative, the passes are good for 90 days so that those seeking a second chance have a better opportunity to make the most of it.

Ten non-profit services on the Missouri side of the state line already use the passes for clients who are domestic violence victims. Since July, Ride KC has already provided 10,000 free trips as part of the program.

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