President’s Update – Expanding Transitional Housing and Vocational Training

The individuals in our programs must first address both criminal thinking and substance abuse problems. After that, it is very important that they obtain gainful employment and find secure homes. All of these are key factors in reducing the likelihood that our graduates or people coming out of prison re-offend.

For that reason, transitional housing is an important – and growing – component of KPEP programming.

In addition to the residential and outpatient services at our six facilities, KPEP also owns five houses that are used for transitional housing. Residents of these homes are there because they have no approved place to live, not as a result of some sort of sanction.

Michigan Offender Success currently contracts with us to have beds available in these homes for up to 90 days for each person they refer. During these 90 days, each participant is expected to seek and obtain employment, participate in treatment programs and look for permanent housing.

These houses are also used for graduates of KPEP who have been unable to secure housing. Many of these individuals have found jobs, but have been unable to save enough money for a security deposit and first month’s rent. Some also have poor credit histories, which make it difficult to enter into a lease. Our transitional housing allows them to pay week by week until other arrangements can be made.

To address the need for gainful employment, we started two vocational training programs about a year ago: culinary arts and custodial services. After the first few months we decided our students would be better served if we merged these two programs into one, and we launched the hospitality program.

Walnut & Park Café is an outgrowth of the hospitality program and was opened in March of this year.  The café provides a venue for on-the-job training for all of our students and paid employment for some of our graduates.

We also launched a construction trades program that dovetails with our transitional housing program. The last transition house we obtained, for instance, was purchased through the Kalamazoo Land Bank and was in need of repair. KPEP construction trade program participants worked on this house doing cleaning, painting, plumbing, flooring, dry walling and some basic carpentry. This home has recently been fully renovated and is available for transitional housing.

We are very excited about our relationship with the Kalamazoo Land Bank and look forward to purchasing other homes for renovation and resale or affordable housing.

While in the Construction Trades program, participants will learn basic safety rules and procedures, pass CPR/First Aid, pass OSHA 10 certification, learn math and measuring skills and learn the basics of carpentry, plumbing and electrical. We have spent several months learning the kinds of jobs that are available and talking with contractors, and we have joined the Kalamazoo Home Builders Association.

As we’ve ramped up this program and conducted our research, we’ve found that this industry is desperate for workers. Contractors and other general labor companies simply can’t find enough people who want to work. One builder summed up what he is looking for in an employee in four points:

“1. Show up on time on day one. 2. Actually work. 3. Show up on day two. 4. Pass the drug test.”

This reflects the construction job market in West Michigan and creates an opportunity for the individuals we train to easily find work and prove themselves as good workers.

These vocational programs are both very new.  We will follow up with employers regarding retention and any other work skills that need to be a part of the training and will fine-tune programs as needed. We plan to provide periodic updates through this newsletter on both graduation and employment placement data so you can track our success.