Learning building trades could soon build better futures for participants who were chronically unsheltered or emerging from treatment programs or incarceration.

Bridges for Life is developing a Building Together program that would provide low-cost housing and a six-month training program for participants renovating blighted homes. Tim Pierson and Jeff Holthouse of Bridges for Life updated Wayne County’s commissioners about the program during the March 20 commissioners meeting. 

All three commissioners favor the program and support its implementation. Bridges for Life has requested donation of properties scheduled for next month’s deed sale as well as financial support. The Building Together concept indicates a $500,000 investment could help the program become self-sustaining after five years.

“It is something a little different,” Pierson said. “That’s what’s great about it: it’s a little different.”

Participants would be vetted thoroughly before admission to the program. They would be provided immediate housing and earn $12 per hour while learning all aspects of construction. The participants would pay rent and contribute 50 cents per hour from their wages toward purchasing tools, so they’d have the skills and tools for employment as skilled laborers.

After completing the program, participants would still live in the renovated properties, paying rent that would help the program move forward. The plan estimates that within the five years, 10 properties would be renovated by 40 participants.

“Life skills are certainly a major focus in teaching these individuals how to not only be carpenters, but to be really good employees and to be really good citizens,” Holthouse said. “We want to change the trajectory of their life for good, so they don’t go back into homelessness or addiction or any other number of things.”

Pierson and Holthouse have identified four properties that might work to begin the program. Commissioners plan to take the title of those properties and allow Pierson and Holthouse to get inside and better identify the repairs necessary and the costs for each. Commissioners would then donate properties — likely two — to Bridges for Life.

Commissioners also would have a better idea about how much financial assistance the program would initially need. They have discussed contributing opioid settlement money. The county recently received more than $345,000 from its 2023 settlement allocation.

Commissioner Jeff Plasterer thinks initial property and financial donations would allow Bridges for Life to evaluate the project, make any adjustments and build partnerships.

“Let’s demonstrate to the community this works and to the contractor community that these are folks now that have some skills, they’re employable,” Plasterer said. “I think it’s a win-win all around.”

Some individuals have already been identified as possible participants.

“For us, it’s most exciting because we are able to put the names and faces with this,” Pierson said. “When it’s conceptual, you just think OK there’s some person out there that this might work for, but for us, having worked with a number of people that when placed into this program, we know they have the skill level that’s already going to make them a qualified candidate. And the path they’re going to be on out of this is just very, very exciting.”

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A version of this article appeared in the March 27 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.