Oregon unions will train state prison inmates, and build shelters for homeless
The Oregon AFL-CIO and a handful of trade unions are about to team up with Oregon Corrections Enterprises to introduce female inmates to skilled trades. Beginning in November, 90 inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon, will take part in an experimental four-month-long pre-apprenticeship training program. Groups of 15 will have 260 hours of classroom instruction. Then, to help them put skills into practice and see how the skilled trades fit together, each class will construct a simple shed. Oregon Corrections Enterprises hopes to make the sheds available to local governments for use as temporary housing units for the homeless. The project will use welding, machine and carpentry tools that were sitting idle at a shuttered shop facility at Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem.
Known as “First Chance,” the project is the brainchild of Oregon AFL-CIO workforce liaison Mark Warne, who serves on the board of Oregon Corrections Enterprises — the state agency that manages inmate work programs.
“A lot of these people didn’t have a first chance,” Warne says, explaining the name. “To reduce recidivism, it’s important to provide career opportunities for ex-offenders.”
So far, the Carpenters, Painters, Roofers, Laborers, and Electrical Workers unions have pledged to provide instructors for 8 to 20 hours of basic training per class, and Warne is talking with other unions about participating.
The 8’x10’ sheds will have insulation and electric light and heat, but no plumbing. They’ll have a window and a door, a composite roof, and 1.5”-thick floors of linoleum on top of double decking of 3/4” pressure-treated plywood. The sheds will be set on three 4”x6” pressure treated skids to make them easy to move and level. Warne expects the program will build 10 huts over the course of the first year, some of which will be set up as a demonstration village outside the Oregon Corrections Enterprises offices in Salem, to showcase the project to legislators.
The huts aren’t meant as a long-term solution to homelessness, Warne said.
“They’re simply to keep people from having to live in doorways or sleeping on sidewalks,” Warne said. “This is something for somebody that is sliding down the economic scale or is in the process of building back up.”
The huts are being offered to local governments at below the cost of materials, though none have agreed to take the huts yet. City of Portland officials declined, saying they’re focusing resources on getting the homeless into temporary shelters and permanent homes; the sheds are something in between those two.
“It was a little disappointing,” said Oregon AFL-CIO spokesperson Elana Guiney of Portland’s decision, “but there are a lot of other local governments in state. We’re moving ahead with the other [skills training] part of the program.”