St. Vincent de Paul Society helps save transitional housing for women

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | May 21, 2014

Water damage put home for women released from incarceration in jeopardy

GREEN BAY — Transitional housing for women released from incarceration is extremely limited in northeast Wisconsin, so losing an established residence adds to an already serious problem. That was the fear when a recovery home on Green Bay’s east side suffered extensive water damage last fall.

Dave Bertrand, a member of the advisory committee of Welcome Home, explains the renovations completed at a recovery house for women released from incarceration, located on Green Bay’s east side. The residence, currently vacant, suffered extensive water damage last fall. (Rick Evans | For The Compass)
Dave Bertrand, a member of the advisory committee of Welcome Home, explains the renovations completed at a recovery house for women released from incarceration, located on Green Bay’s east side. The residence, currently vacant, suffered extensive water damage last fall. (Rick Evans | For The Compass)

“The home was vacant because women had graduated out of the house or had left the house,” explained Dave Bertrand, a member of the advisory committee of Welcome Home, a program which provides recently-released men and women with support for successful re-entry into the community. “A water line, a toilet supply line, ruptured. The water was probably running a week to two weeks before somebody discovered it.”

The ceiling over a large portion of the two-story home and the stairwell suffered the most damage. A company was hired to remove the mold caused by the water. Unfortunately, the workers made saw cuts in the joists compromising the structure, said Bertrand. The future of the house was uncertain at this point.

The residence, owned by the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Green Bay, opened in the spring of 2012 as Begin ANEW, an offshoot of Welcome Home. Orrie Kotecki, a former probation and parole agent who is also a member of the Welcome Home advisory committee, used the house as an agent, so she spurred the original renovation project to provide space for four women. Case plans were handled by the Department of Corrections. The women could stay for a period not to exceed six months.

The water damage exposed other problems with the house, explained Bertrand.

“I noticed the old horsehair insulation,” he said. “It’s supposed to be fire retardant. I pulled it out and put a light to it and it went up. We also need to completely gut all the electricity. It had the old knob and tube wiring.”

“I cannot say enough good things about St. Vincent de Paul,” said Kotecki. “They have stood behind what we do. This is my charity of choice and they have showed an incredible commitment.”

“St. Vincent de Paul showed me a side of community involvement and a servant mentality that you don’t expect,” said Bertrand. “Bill (Gosse, executive director) and the board were adamant to make this happen.”

Bertrand, who did some of the repair work on the water softener systems, used his contacts to help complete the project for approximately $25,000, well below the $65,000 estimated cost. He praised the generosity of Packerland Electric and Wolfe and Sons Plumbing for providing discounts. Bertand also points to James Smith, one of the contractors on the project, for his commitment.

The entire lower level of the home, except the kitchen, was renovated. The reconfiguration of multiple walls was necessary to bring the home up to code.

“Our goal was to get the house back,” said Bertrand. “This is a place to give women out of prison a chance to get on their feet, learn new skills, build a bank account and be held accountable.”

The home will now house up to three women. The six-month residency period will remain the same, but other changes have been implemented. For example, televisions are no longer in the bedrooms. The main living area features a television, but it will only be used for programming DVDs.

Residents will be required to take part in a book club. The reading list will include resource books about such subjects as responsibility, procrastination and finances. The women, who stay at the house for free, are required to get a job or go to school. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and various workshops will be offered at the residence.

“This is designed to be a healing place,” said Bertrand. “It is set up to be a safe place with learning opportunities. The women who work with the residents plant the seeds to show them how to live differently from how they lived in the past.”

“We don’t babysit,” said Kotecki. “It’s really important that they know that they will be held accountable. It’s a recovery house and people will have to work to better themselves. They can walk anytime. We have found that if they leave they will relapse and come back.”

Bertrand said that a long-term goal is to develop businesses to raise money in support of Welcome Home and the recovery house. Residents would have the opportunity to develop skills through employment within the businesses. A recycling service and a coffee house have been discussed, he said.

Building community is essential for the women to succeed in and outside the house, said Kotecki.

“Many of these women have histories of sexual and mental abuse,” she said. “They never developed that sense of community. You can’t feel a responsibility for community if you don’t feel a part of it.”

Kotecki and Bertrand are available to speak free of charge. They have presented “Incarceration: It’s Not What You Think It Is!” to parishes and organizations within the diocese. To schedule a presentation, donate to Welcome Home or for more information, contact Kotecki at (715) 927-5991 or [email protected].

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