Providing those released from jail or prison with safe, sober and structured housing as they move back to the community on parole or probation has decreased jail time, as clients are more successful in supervision and less likely to re-offend when they leave, Wasco County Community Correction Director Fritz Bachman told The Dalles City Council in December.
Since April 2017, the county has partnered with Bridges to Change, a nonprofit based in Portland, to provide a “Stabilization House” for those transitioning out of jail or prison, and data comparing arrest rates before and after the house was opened in The Dalles show the facility is decreasing recidivism (post-supervision offense), Bachman said.
“Safe and sober housing is one of the highest needs for clients in our supervision,” he said.
“Someone might be thinking well and staying sober, and they go through our treatment and our programs; they talk to their parole officer and have a mentor and some meetings. But then they would go home to an unstable environment, and they would slip.”
In its first year, the house graduated on average an individual every month. “Those graduations were not just ‘you did your time and you got a certificate,’” Bachman said. “They had gotten a job, saved up enough money for rent and found a place, and in many cases had gone from being homeless and lacking identification or skills to having identification, having a job and life skills.”
The stabilization house is funded by Wasco County and two state grants.
Located in The Dalles, the facility can house up to 10 men on supervision. Those in the house have rules and a structured program and work with an on-site mentor.
The biggest hurdle for most graduates was finding a place to rent, Bachman said. Barriers to renting include the availability and cost of rentals, and the willingness of a landlord to rent to someone with a criminal history.
“Finding a willing landlord is a challenge,” Bachman said, often because of their last name and their family or criminal history. “A landlord could easily know, or find out, that history,” he explained.
Another issue was the abruptness of the shift from a structured program to full independence.
“We had a couple of challenging relapses, one was somebody who had lasted well through the program, was really motivated and doing well. But the transition out of a very structured house with rules to a rental was a very hard landing for him, gearing up to real life, and he relapsed.”
In response to both problems, the county and Bridges to Change are now providing “next step” transitional housing for those graduating from supervision.
Ed Smith, housing program director for Bridges to Change, which is based in Portland, said there is a structure, a time line, and a parole officer at the stabilization house. At the next step houses there is no timeline or program, but participants do have to stay sober and follow the rules.
Two “next step” rental houses have been purchased in The Dalles by Bridges to Change. The first, for women, opened in February 2018. It can house up to 8 women and five children, with shared and single room rentals available, said Michael Olson, mentor program supervisor with Bridges to Change, during a later interview at the organization’s office in downtown The Dalles.
More recently, a “next step” rental house for men was opened in December 2018. That house offers individual room rentals for 6 to 10 men.
The houses are owned and operated by Bridges to Change. “We are just serving as a willing landlord,” Smith said.
“There is a basic structure, but they are living a normal life,” Bachman said of those in next step houses.
Arrest data demonstrates that the housing program, in conjunction with other efforts, is effective at reducing recidivism, Bachman said.
“Arrests really plummet once they enter the house,” he said, referencing a chart showing the number of times graduates had been arrested before and after entering the program.
“Some of these guys have made mistakes, but this has saved months of jail time,” Bachman added. “We are seeing people successfully complete supervision and get off supervision.”
Mayor Stephen Lawrence noted that there had been few complaints regarding the stabilization house. “We’ve heard nothing for a long time from the neighbors,” he noted.
Bachman added that each house has a resident manager, and that local law enforcement have been notified as to their location.
There have been no policing issues or crime reported from the houses, he said.
The organization also established a downtown office at 212 Washington Street in 2018 and now has five peer mentors working with the corrections office to provide day-to-day support for clients.
“It’s a strong working relationship,” Bachman said.
Olson said the organization locally is still settling into the community. “We’re pretty new to the community,” he explained. “We want to manage the houses we have well, make sure we are fitting in to the community.”
He is proud of the local success of the program. “We have an 80 to 82 percent success rate. We’re pretty proud of that,” Olson said.
Bridges to Change is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with services in Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Wasco and Marion counties. According to Monta Knudson, executive director, their mission is to “strengthen individuals and families affected by addictions, mental health, poverty and homelessness.”
They strongly believe that each person has the ability to be a positive part of their community if they are given the right opportunity and tools to succeed, she said.
The organization serves approximately 4,500 people every year, housing 450 people at any given time.