JoCo on the Go Podcast: Problem Solving Beds

On JoCo on the Go, episode #119, Hear how Johnson County Department of Corrections has an innovative way to help justice involved individuals experiencing homelessness. Learn about the program and the big impacts it's having on lives. Also find out the latest on the employment and life skills programs the department has and how you can get involved to help your community. 

** Video used in this webcast was recorded pre-pandemic.**

JoCo on the Go webcast: Problem Solving Beds 12.21.21

Look for JoCo on the Go where you regularly listen to podcasts.

Highlights:

Time Subject
00:25 Introduction
01:20 What is the problem solving bed program?
03:57 Who takes advantage of this program?
08:14 Success stories from the program
10:17 The future of the program
10:53 How the program helps residents rejoin society

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Transcript:

Theresa Freed 00:00

Johnson County Department of Corrections has an innovative way to help justice-involved individuals experiencing homelessness. On this episode, hear how residents are getting the help they need.

Announcer 00:11

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County, here's what's happening, and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 00:25

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. The Johnson County Department of Corrections has a wide range of great programs to help people who come in contact with the criminal justice system. Its adult residential center specifically has a new program to help those dealing with housing insecurity, here to talk more about that is Angela Paz who oversees this program. Thanks for being here.

Angela Paz 00:51

I'm happy to be here today and talk about the problem solving bed program.

Theresa Freed 00:55

All right, well, first off, can you just tell us a little bit about your role with the Department of Corrections.

Angela Paz 00:59

Certainly, I am the Deputy Director at the adult residential center, I've actually spent the past 24 years in this position. And I oversee a lot of the operations and case management pieces for the individuals who are in our custody and control.

Theresa Freed 01:20

Okay, and then also just tell us a little bit about this new program that started

Angela Paz 01:23

In 2018, when we started to take a look at the populations we served at the adult residential center, what we found out is because we were community based that housing somebody here, in an incarceration setting is obviously much more expensive than out in the community. And because we already have a lot of those services out in the community, we wanted to focus on helping with more of an inmate population versus a probation population. And so we started to do a lot of focus groups, as we were looking into make that change. And in almost every single focus group, the topic of homelessness was brought up. And so we started to brainstorm about how can we help with the criminal justice involved individuals who find themselves to be homeless. And so we plan and talked and came up with what we call a problem solving bed. It is designed for those individuals who find themselves homeless, whether it's for a day or longer, where we can offer them housing, a roof over their head, three meals a day, we do have a medical department that can help with medications and mental health on staff, transportation back and forth to work, and also a resource developer who's essential if they're unemployed, because they can work with them, and get them connected and employed. We know that if anybody needs to rent an apartment, they have to have employment that goes along with that. So that's an essential part of the program is well, we generally, we want this to be a short term, this isn't, you know, hey, come and stay for six months. So we generally say, anywhere from a day to up to 60 days really dependent upon what the individual needs. We've had people who've come in and say, Hey, I have a paycheck come in on Wednesday, and I just have no place to go until that comes in. And so we can help them in a short period of time, or we have some that are have been chronically homeless, don't have a job. And we know it's going to take them more that 60-day time period to be able to find housing, and it may be transitional housing, not necessarily permanent housing, but at least puts them in a better spot than what they were before.

Theresa Freed 03:57

That's great. And so can you talk a little bit about what a typical scenario might look for some look like for somebody who comes in contact with the criminal justice system? And you discover that they have the housing need here? So can you walk us through what are the steps to get them through this program?

Angela Paz 04:15

So I basically just need a referral form filled out from a case manager out in the community. Generally, it's going to be a probation officer or a court services officers, and they have the client fill out the application, they send it to me and I look it over and call them to really ask any additional questions that we need. There are some things that you know, we can't handle, if they have a if they have a medical condition that requires a lot of care and attention. If they're on certain medications. You know, we are a narcotic free campus so we can't allow that to happen. And while they're here, if they have certain you know, disabilities, we're going to do our best to assist, but sometimes we may not be able to. So we really tried to say yes to the majority of individuals who come in, I know I've only had to decline a few. And the most recent ones that I've had decline has really been because we're at capacity not simply that we couldn't take them. It's just we've dedicated 24 beds to this, and I filled all 24.

Theresa Freed 05:25

And that was gonna be my next question how many people we have in the program? So also, can you talk about, you know, how long this program has been up and running? Are there plans to expand to meet that need.

Angela Paz 05:38

So this is fairly new, we actually launched it in December of last year. We got one referral last year. But I am happy to say that as of today, we've had 205 intakes, that doesn't count all the cases that we did staff and did get referred, but we've actually admitted 205 individuals into the program. So there's a definite need, as you can just tell from the number of people that we have in the program. Again, kind of going back to our focus groups, when we said when we started this, we're like, we'll put aside 24 beds, we'll see if we can fill them and reevaluate. So we are at that year mark, and we are really looking at numbers and services. And we know that the need is out there. So we can potentially, you know, bump that up to help Johnson County's really, you know, vulnerable population.

Theresa Freed 06:33

And so a lot of people might be wondering, you know, is there you know, obviously, evidenced by the fact that you've reached capacity. But, you know, do a lot of people experience homelessness who come in contact with the criminal justice system?

Angela Paz 06:47

Yeah, there's a lot of homeless individuals out there. And that's one thing that we've discovered is, once word gets out about a program like this, people tell people and so I've gotten all kinds of calls from individuals from agencies that I've never heard of just basically saying, Hey, I'm, I have an individual who's homeless, can you assist. So I've had to turn down a few people because they weren't criminally justice involved. We don't want to bring somebody into a correctional facility who has had no criminal justice involvement, we just know that that's not a good situation. So we do have to decline those individuals. But we've also gotten calls from municipal courts and law enforcement agencies and the sheriff's office, you know, sometimes the sheriff's office, you know, when their time is done, their time is done. And they open the door and say, Here you go. And we've gotten a couple of calls from them saying, Hey, can you assist us? And we, like I said, we tried to do our best to say yes to most of these. I've even had just individuals who've heard from other individuals saying, Hey, I'm homeless, can you help me? So it's definitely showing that there is a need to assist those who find themselves homeless.

Theresa Freed 08:14

And so what kinds of success stories are you seeing? Are people really taking advantage of the resources and the opportunities that are available through the program and getting back on their feet?

Angela Paz 08:25

Yeah, the majority of them are, there's always going to be a few who don't. But we've had individuals who, like I said, have stayed for a couple of days. And they've talked about how, how much that they received just being in here in that short period of time in the kind of regarding the resources department, like, Hey, I didn't know that this was available to me. We've had individuals who've been here that 60 day time long timeframe, and they sometimes say Can I can I stay longer, but again, trying to get in and help as many people as we can we do try to have people in and out in that that 60 day time frame.

Theresa Freed 09:04

And so the adult residential center, this is different than like, a facility that's securely locked down to can you kind of describe what it looks like for people who aren't familiar.

Angela Paz 09:13

Yeah, we, we call it a campus. It's definitely several different buildings that are spaced out. It's harder to get into the facility, you do need a key to get in, but you can walk out the front door. So it is it's unique and that we're you know, we're not a prison. We're not a jail. We're still incarceration, but it's more of an open compact complex.

Theresa Freed 09:38

And how closely do you all work with, for example, the judges when they're doing their sentencing so that they can see this resource as an option.

Angela Paz 09:48

When we were holding our focus groups. We were talking with the courts quite frequently because they sent us most of our clients beforehand, so we were educating them every step of the way. As far as what the new programs we were bringing on and what they were going to look like. So the courts, the public defender's office or assistant district attorney's office all has been kind of informed on the changes that we've made and how it affects the clients that they work with as well.

Theresa Freed 10:17

All right, and where do you see this program going from here? Or do you see no other cities kind of modeling or anything like that?

Angela Paz 10:25

You know, that? I don't know the answer to I can tell you I've had a, we have had a couple of phone calls from other jurisdictions saying, What are you doing? And how are you making that happen? And so there's definitely interest and there's questions being asked, I do hope that others would follow suit simply because homelessness is a problem that not one person is going to be able to solve, it's going to take a community effort in order for that to be successful.

Theresa Freed 10:53

And the adult residential center I know does just a ton of amazing work with you know, businesses and, and places in the community to try to help individuals you're serving get the resources, they need to find employment and to have the skills, the qualifications, to get good paying jobs. So can you talk a little bit about kind of how that's evolved over the years? And how it's kind of working out?

Angela Paz 11:20

Well, what you're specifically talking about, I think, is our College of trade program. Is that correct? Wonderful. And so our College of trade program, although it wasn't it didn't start off being the College of trade really started about 10 years ago. And it started off in our Strengthening Families program, where we were meeting with community partners and talking about our clients and the difficulties that they were having finding good paying jobs. And what happened was, we just happen to have the right people at the table at the right time, we had Lee Jost from NCircle, who was there along with Dennis, Wright, who was a welder, who basically said, I'm willing to volunteer my time to teach these individuals. And so we started with a welding program, and it was wildly successful. We did a couple of different sessions. And each session got a little bit better and more clients definitely wanted to join. And so it has grown into what is now called the College of trade. And this is a partnership between encircle a local, nonprofit and Johnson County Community College. And we do what we can to offer skills, trade training, to our clients at no cost to them, so that they can get the job skills gained the job skills necessary to earn a wage that's livable, especially here in Johnson County. So we have grown it from welding to welding and culinary and forklift and OSHA, and construction. And we hope to continue to add trades as we feel the need or clients show interest in that. It is something that we always have clients who are interested in want to be involved in. So we also expect this to kind of continue and hopefully we can increase not only the number of trades that we offer, but also the number of clients that we serve.

Theresa Freed 13:33

And so can you talk a little more to about just the impact of having secure employment and how that positively impacts an individual's life in terms of that job security, financial security, and then self esteem to and maybe reducing recidivism?

Angela Paz 13:50

Yeah, with Department of Corrections, our focus is generally always on that reducing up the recidivism rate. And one thing that you can definitely see a direct link to is employment, lack of employment usually means a higher recidivism rate. If they have good stable employment, where they're earning a livable wage, then they're not they're going to be more successful than somebody who's not. And most all of our clients have a family that they need to support as well. And so if they can get a job, gain the skills that they need, earn that livable wage, it not only helps them in their recidivism rate helps them be successful, but it also helps their family. So it's also as you mentioned, you know, just that self-esteem booster that, hey, I accomplished something, I graduated from this program, I got a job, I'm earning this wage. And, you know, generally when good things start to happen, good things continue to happen. So this is just the very beginning stages of how we can continue to make a change in the client's lives that we serve.

Theresa Freed 15:06

And that's a good point we didn't touch on yet, in addition to employment, the Department of Corrections also focuses on other life skills and, and helping individuals, you know, rebuild those connections with friends, family, and things like that. So can you talk about that emphasis as well?

Angela Paz 15:21

Yeah, kind of going back to, you know, when we started with the welding program, we learned that sometimes just teaching the skill is not enough because they can get a job, but not necessarily keep the job. So if they lack those basic life skills, or what we call essential skills, for example, if they get mad at their boss, and they yell and scream, and walk out the door, the fact that they have the job skills, great, but the fact that they can't keep a job makes it more difficult. So one of the essential components of our College of trade program is the essential skills. And that's a 14 week class that teaches clients, you know, what, what to expect from your employer? What does your employer expect from you, it teaches some basic kind of communication skills, some problem solving skills. It also has kind of a mentoring piece. So who do you reach out to for support, if something happens? All of those things help teach them those soft skills. So we have the skill trade itself, and you have the soft skills, which really does help us be more successful with that.

Theresa Freed 16:33

And just tying this back to the new program for problem solving beds, so are there some intensive services that are providing being provided in that short term to help people get those jobs and stay on their feet?

Angela Paz 16:47

So anybody, our problem solving bad can take advantage of the College of trade program? It is something that they've got to want to do. It's not, Hey, come on in. And we're just automatically going to place you there's a high demand, we do have kind of an interview process. But that is one of the resources that is available to our problem solving bed clients.

Theresa Freed 17:07

All right, well, great information, anything else you want to share about the Department of Corrections and some of the things you guys are doing there.

Angela Paz 17:14

You know, we've had a lot of change over these past couple of years. And we're getting used to the changes as well as our community partners. But I think both the College of trade, and the problem solving bed is really showcasing what we really want to do with the clients that we have here.

Theresa Freed 17:34

That's terrific. And just a final question. I know that some of the programs you have you accept volunteers, you want to partner with businesses, how do people get involved in some of those great programs that you were talking about?

Angela Paz 17:47

So we do have a volunteers and Programs Coordinator here in Johnson County. And if you have an interest, we can definitely hook you up with that. And we can talk about all of the volunteer opportunities that are available.

Theresa Freed 18:03

Perfect and we will have a link to that website on our show notes of this episode in case anybody is interested. Well, thank you so much for spending some time with us today and talking about the great programs, things happening at the Department of Corrections.

Angela Paz 18:15

Thank you. It was my pleasure.

Announcer 18:17

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.

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