Washington County sees clean & sober housing as route to job

From the Oregonian, January 1 2009

Homeless single men in Washington County may get help as soon as February through a Homeless-to-Work voucher program at the old Clean and Sober Living home between Hillsboro and Cornelius.

This time, said John Hartner of Washington County’s Community Corrections Department, the target clients for that house will not be men with chronic chemical dependency or criminal records, but homeless men who could likely find a job within a few months.

The plan probably will come before the Washington County Board of Commissioners for final approval Feb. 3, said Val Valfre, interim director for the county’s Department of Housing Services.

Hartner heard this past summer that the home was being renovated and would be available at a reasonable rental price. It offers 18 to 20 single bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, office space and is near a bus stop.

A member of the committee that formulated the county’s “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness,” Hartner’s first thought was to make the home into a shelter for single men, given that current county shelters are all for families only.

After discussions with the county’s Housing Department and others, it became clear that a shelter would require much more staffing — making it much more expensive — than a transitional homeless-to-work program.

On Dec. 16, county commissioners gave the go-ahead to pursue such a program. Valfre and Hartner are proposing a two-year pilot program with two phases. First, a client would live in the home for six months while looking for a job.

“As a ‘carrot,’ ” Valfre said, “if they ‘graduate’ and get a job, we will provide a one-year voucher that will allow them to move out and rent a place in the community.”

A nonprofit operator would help provide counseling, job referrals, resume assistance and support groups.

“I’m also pushing for housekeeping skills,” said Valfre, who has seen people evicted because they don’t know how to maintain their homes. “They don’t know how to keep a place clean, they don’t know how to heat it — you get mold and that sort of thing,” he said.

“This is not a treatment facility,” Hartner said. Any drug and alcohol issues must be minor, and clients must be at a stage where they could attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, he said.

To find potential participants, Hartner said, “We’ll be going to homeless camps and agencies who work with them.” People can also apply at the Department of Housing Services or through other local nonprofits.

County officials have talked with several nonprofits about operating the home, such as Bridges to Change, which has worked with the county in the past, Hartner said. None has been formally offered a contract.

Hartner said he applauds the county for supporting the plan at a time when “finances are very tight.” The program would cost about $228,000 a year, with about $128,000 coming from federal Section 8 housing vouchers and $100,000 coming from the county’s fund to fight homelessness.

A copy of the plan is available online at www.co.washington.or.us/housing.