July 18, 2013 in Washington Voices

Change for the Better program helps homeless get back on track

By The Spokesman-Review
 
More information

Businesses interested in exploring contract-based piece work with the homeless at Change for the Better may call Loli Kalua at (509) 332-9691.

The loud hammering coming from the gymnasium in the basement of Central United Methodist Church doesn’t come from a building improvement project – it comes from several personal improvement projects.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Change for the Better, a program that’s part of the church’s $100,000 initiative to help the homeless, is organizing toys for Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest and producing leather bracelets reading “Change Spokane” to sell at local craft fairs and markets.

Robert Miller, who is also in charge of the program’s educational services, has always had a love of leatherwork and now he’s showing youth volunteers how to stamp letters into leather bracelets – hence the hammering.

“I started doing leather a long time ago, when it was kind of a hippie thing and everyone had leather bracelets,” Miller said, while showing volunteers David Smith and Cassandra Markley how to use the leather tools.

That piece work, as they call it, is all part of a program that’s aiming to help the homeless get back on track.

Another piece-work option is sorting big boxes full of small toys on a job contracted by Goodwill.

To keep the piece work part of the program going, Change for the Better is looking for companies with simple jobs – envelope stuffing, swag-bag packing, sorting, simple assembly – that can be done in the gymnasium at the church, on the corner of Howard Street and Third Avenue.

“We would love to work with more businesses like we work with Goodwill,” said Loli Kalua, executive director of Change for the Better.

On Mondays and Thursdays the gymnasium is turned into the Hall of Change, which means it’s open to homeless men and women as a safe place to hang out.

“Many of them run all night, they get beat up and chased around,” Kalua said.

Once at the Hall of Change, homeless individuals may chose to volunteer in the laundry or kitchen facilities at the church.

“We pay them by giving them access to a shower and a place to do their laundry,” Kalua said. “The initial volunteering is prerequisite to get into the piece work which includes case management.”

Kalua said the program is structured in tiers to encourage the homeless to get involved and be accountable for their own lives. Case management focuses on identifying any obstacles between them and employment.

“Many don’t have ID – or it’s been revoked because they have unpaid fines or other problems,” Kalua said. Without proper ID it’s impossible to get a job, open a bank account or access social services.

Staff at Change for the Better will help the homeless determine how to straighten things out by paying old fines or simply going through the process of applying for an ID.

The piece work pays actual money and Change for the Better will help the homeless set up a checking and savings account for future earnings.

“We try to empower them,” Kalua said, “and the piece work helps us do that.”

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