TAYLORVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — The Taylorville police department’s safe passage program has been in place for more than two years now. It helps people who are addicted to drugs find help, without fear of being arrested. But the program is limited, because it relies solely on donations to pay for it.

“Usually, 3,000 dollars is usually the highest that we’ve had in the account,” Safe Passage Coordinator Denise Evans said. “And that was from the citizens sending us donations, and doing a few fundraisers throughout the year.”

That all changed Thursday. The department was awarded a 100-thousand dollar grant from the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority. Chief of Police Dwayne Wheeler couldn’t believe it when he got the call. He says the money will be used to take the safe passage program to new heights.

“It’s going to expand the program, we’re going to be able to do more community outreach,” Wheeler said. “We’re going to be doing that. We’re going to be doing education for the youth.”

Safe passage has helped more than 400 people since 2019, but with this new community outreach component, police will be able to find people to help, instead of relying on people to make the difficult decision to come to them.

Denise Evans has been with the program since it started. She thinks this will make all the difference.

“I think when we’re able to go out into the public, and speak to these people, it’s going to put their mind at ease a little bit better, and they’re going to come in before they reach rock bottom,” Evans said.

For Wheeler, the recognition that comes with the grant is another sign this program is doing what it’s designed to do.

“We work hard on this program, for many reasons,” Wheeler said. “One is, first, the first main thing is to save someone’s life.”