BUCKEYE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Imagine having both your job and your apartment on the same plot of land. It’s a convenience a lot of people would love, and one that former inmates are drawn to. A housing program at Hickman’s Family Farms in Buckeye gives their employees just that – transitional housing for people who may have just gotten out of jail.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, people who get out of jail are almost 10 times more likely to become homeless than the general public. Twenty-seven percent of formerly incarcerated people are looking for a job but can't find one. This program kills both birds with one stone.
Amber Bethel is an order runner at Hickman’s and a resident in their transitional housing program.
“I’m stronger because of this program,” she said. “This job is not just a job; it’s a career. I get instant gratification every single day from being a part of something productive every single day and it just feels good and it’s an amazing feeling.”
The farm provides modest apartments (furnished with couches all the way down to sheets and silverware) for current and potential employees during times of major transition – whether getting out of jail, or simply moving.
“When you take both those needs and put them together you get this project here,” transition manager Aaron Cheatham said.
Residents pay for what they get with 20% of their salaries, which the company automatically deducts weekly. It’s a lot like a mandated savings account, because half of that money goes back to the employee as a stipend to move forward when he or she leaves the program.
Because the apartments are walking distance from the plants they work in, there’s no need for transportation, either.
Cheatham, a former parole officer, says his experience has taught him that former inmates with jobs and a safe, steady living environment are far less likely to reoffend. He says the employees in the transitional housing program are very loyal, and work a little harder.
“Just showing that you’re investing in someone in this way, it definitely boosts the morale a little bit,” he said.
Bethel was already working and training with Hickman’s when she was still an inmate, so the farm had a full-time employee who already knew what she was doing once she got out.
“There’s just no going back for me. It’s only forward from here.”
As time goes one, the success stories play out. Top managers inside the farm’s production facilities started out in the transitional housing program and worked their way up the ladder. Bethel says even when she’s one day able to get housing of her own, she too wants to keep working at the place that helped get her back on her feet.