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KLN's temporary housing could help break barriers to employment

The temporary housing units owned by KLN Family Brands sit next to a truck parking lot near The Bridge food pantry. Once the site of foreign labor employees and potentially a place for introducing people into the workforce in Perham. Michael Johnson/Focus

A program expected to come to Perham this summer is meant to break down barriers to employment, and coach people to enter into independent living.

"Perham 180" is a program coordinated by Hannah Frederick of Productive Alternatives, located out of Fergus Falls. If the program is a go, Frederick, a staff development coordinator, would be located in Perham among the temporary housing units owned by KLN Family Brands. She would work with individuals that may for whatever reason have difficulties entering into the job market. Working closely with KLN, many of these individuals would be working at one of the many job opportunities within KLN.

Frederick said this program could fill a gap that's keeping good workers from entering into good jobs. This could be individuals with disabilities, or adults living at home or many other barriers.

"It's really seeking out people with a barrier to employment," Frederick said.

KLN owns four buildings with 12 units in each that were originally planned to be used for foreign labor. Due to changes to work visas, the units have been used minimally according to Fred Sailer, KLN recruiter. The units are located near the Perham Food Shelf.

To put them to good use, Sailer has requested an interim use permit from the city of Perham allowing the units to be used by both interns and Productive Alternatives, in both cases giving new employees a chance to get started working and hopefully into a place of their own within six months. This interim use would terminate June of 2023.

The request indicates that the city have the right to inspect the premises to ensure compliance with the provisions. For this to go forward, the permit must be approved by the city planning commission. They are set to decide at a May 15 meeting.

Productive Alternatives use

The individuals using these units through Productive Alternatives would be screened applicants. They are people who are ready to transition from rehabilitative programs into mainstream living. Individuals would be mentored and monitored to help them be successful.

"This is all voluntary," Frederick said. "It's not going to be a placement. They are not being forced to do this because of a court order. They apply, they go through a background check, and they are ready for it. They are excited."

When asked by a council member for clarification, Frederick said this was in no way a halfway house.

Frederick said the program has been in conversation stages for at least six months.

The request includes using up to 10 rooms for Productive Alternatives, with individuals staying up to six months. Frederick doesn't think there will be any problem getting applicants to fill the units. If approved the next step in the process is getting into the units to prepare them for use.

"I'm excited," Frederick said. "I know Perham is so progressive and I feel this is going be great development."

This program models one called Tasks Unlimited out of Minneapolis. Tasks Unlimited provides supported employment, housing and recovery services for people with mental illness so that they achieve a full life with the rights and responsibilities of adults.

Sailer indicated that KLN Family Brands will provide these individuals with jobs and access to their on-site clinic. KLN will not profit from the use of the apartments.

"Our only interest is in providing opportunities for individuals to become healthy while maintaining a job," Sailer wrote to the Perham planning commission.

To stay in the housing, the individuals must stay employed. Their commitment to Productive Alternatives would be valued at 12 units at $400 a month, or an annual gift of $57,600. Productive Alternatives would be responsible for paying taxes and internet at the site. Productive Alternatives is able to administer the program through a West Central Initiative grant. When they get an individual employed, they get a subsidy.

Intern use

KLN's use of the units would include offering housing to college students, other interns or new employees seeking market rate apartments as they begin a new job. They also requested that the units could be used by other industries in the community needing housing for new employees. One example may be professionals in the healthcare industry working at Perham Health. This could be used as a stepping stone for those unable to find housing upon entering a career in the area.

"If you are a community with jobs you seldom have housing," Sailer said. So having this option works well for those businesses that need employees.

"I think this would be a perfect fit for our community," Sailer said. "We're excited about it."

Interns would use up to 10 units and could stay up to four months in a unit. The individuals would not go through the same screening process as those using the Productive Alternatives units.

Provisions

Provisions outlined in the permit include no pets, no children under 18, no smoking in the apartments, no illegal activities, no firearms and no alcohol use or possession. These provisions brought some questioning from Perham police chief Jason Hoaby who was not sure that they could enforce some of those rules on private individuals. He asked to remain a part of the discussions to address some of his concerns. He was also concerned that if people do not make it in the program that they may simply be left without a home or job in the community.

Productive Alternatives staff said those individuals would not just be kicked out. Most would have a case manager helping them find a place to stay, Frederick said.

Michael Johnson

Johnson is a graduate of Verndale Public School. He earned his associate's degree from Central Lakes College with an emphasis in English and natural resources. He earned his bachelor's degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he graduated cum laude in 2008. While there, he double-majored in English and Print Journalism. He's reported for The Advocate, student newspaper of MSUM; The Barnesville Record Review in Barnesville, Minn.; Clay County Historical Society in Moorhead, Minn.; Gillette News Record in Gillette Wyo.; Underwood News in Underwood, N.D.; and The Leader-News in Washburn, N.D. and the Brainerd Dispatch in Brainerd, Minn. Johnson has worked as a reporter for the Pioneer Journal and Perham Focus since Nov. 2017.

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