2022 California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies (CBHA) Conference

Integrating Vocational Rehabilitation with Housing Support

Entering a residential program for substance use can be very scary, a time filled with questions and learning to navigate the unknown. As service providers, we can make this time a little easier by answering questions, offering assistance, reassuring clients that all of their needs will be met. We can explain that the goal is not just to provide a bed to sleep in, but to help the individual to achieve sobriety, better physical health, improved mental health, economic self-sufficiency and independence. This is how we approach new clients at East House. And to make sure that all of their needs are met, East House makes vocational rehabilitation a priority.

Almost 25 years ago, East House realized the importance of providing education and employment services to complement its existing residential programs for individuals in recovery from mental illness and substance use disorder. So, in 1989, it launched a program, now known as Career Services, to meet the vocational and education needs of its clients. Over those 25 years, we have seen the importance of meaningful activity to the rehabilitation of the individuals who we serve.

Currently, the Career Services program serves over 700 people annually in recovery from substance use disorder. These individuals come from East House’s four OASAS-licensed halfway houses and one supported housing apartment program, or one of three other OASAS-licensed residential treatment programs in Rochester, NY that contract with East House for these services.

Counselors from Career Services are considered part of the team that serves clients. They work closely with house managers and counselors to ensure that education and employment services are addressed as part of the plan for clients. Every client residing in an OASAS-licensed facility is given an orientation to the Career Services program, and there is an expectation of involvement while the client is at East House. While we believe in the importance of involvement, we also believe in personal choice. So, each client works on an individualized plan with his or her career counselor, choosing what services and goals are important to each of them.

Here’s how it works: career counselors are assigned to each OASAS-licensed facility, allowing each program to have a point-person for vocational and education services and ensuring optimum collaboration between residential and vocational staff. As part of their assignment, career counselors attend community meetings at the halfway houses, as well as treatment team meetings and case reviews. Career counselors review client progress with residential and treatment staff on a regular basis to ensure that progress is consistent across programs. Depending on the client, the focus may be education, employment or both.

If the goal is education, clients have the opportunity to take classes to prepare for the TASC exam (Test Assessing Secondary Completion), formerly known as GED, at the East House Paul Wolk Learning Center, which is located at Career Services. In addition to TASC preparation, Career Services also offers adult basic education in math and reading as well as classes focused on computer skills, which are essential in today’s job market. For those in need of assistance with memory, focus, or concentration, Career Services offers a cognitive remediation program called NEAR (Neuropsychological Educational Approaches to Remediation). NEAR is an evidence-based approach to cognitive remediation and has been successfully implemented in some outpatient and inpatient programs. NEAR classes are held in the East House Career Services computer labs and individuals have reported excellent gains following their 15-week course.

One client who completed NEAR is Dan. Dan was residing at an East House halfway house, and then graduated to the apartment program. He went through the NEAR program and also attended classes at the Paul Wolk Learning Center to prepare for and complete his TASC, which he obtained in 2013. He now volunteers at the Learning Center while searching for competitive employment. He has successfully graduated from the supported housing apartment program, but continues to utilize Career Services as an alumnus.

Career Services also assists clients with obtaining and retaining volunteer positions, which build skill level, job experience, and self-confidence; locating and registering for skills training or certification programs, as well as referrals to ACCES-VR. Contracts with ACCES-VR allow for work readiness skills training, vocational assessments, job readiness, job placement, and job retention services. Other employment-specific services include weekly groups which focus on job readiness skills, job seeking strategies and job retention. Clients also use two in-house computer labs to search for employment, complete online applications and create professional email accounts. Open interviews and panel discussions with Human Resources representatives from the business community are also available on-site. In 2013, 64 clients came to Career Services for assistance with a job search and 59 of those were placed in competitive employment.

Chad began working with his career counselor while he was living in one of the East House halfway house programs. Chad is deaf and was able to work with a career counselor who is a sign language interpreter. He completed the halfway house program and graduated to the supported housing apartment program. Shortly thereafter he was referred to ACCES-VR with East House Career Services support and guidance. He renewed his CDL-B license, started job searching via the ACCES-VR and East House contract services, and is now employed full time and living independently.

Perhaps the most unique education program is the East House Enrichment Program at RIT. Every summer since 1996, Career Services has organized this two-week college experience program at Rochester Institute of Technology. Through the program, 40 East House clients have the chance to experience college life first-hand and determine if school is an attainable goal for them. Every step of the program mimics a college experience, from applying and acceptance, through orientation and class scheduling to fundraising to support the costs. Transportation to and from campus, as well as daily lunches, are provided. A graduation ceremony on the last day with friends, family, treatment team and counseling staff closes the program.

In 2012, Mary was residing at one of the community residential programs that contracts with East House Career Services. Mary was excited to apply for, and be accepted to, the Enrichment at RIT program. She excelled on campus and decided to continue utilizing the offerings at Career Services. After the completion of the Enrichment program, she came to the job readiness classes offered at Career Services and volunteered at the Paul Wolk Learning Center. She was provided with job search and placement assistance. She is now employed full time as an Office Administrator and part of her position involves supervision of other staff and volunteer personnel.

In October of 2012, East House opened Darn Good Cookie Company (DGCC), its first affirmative business, which provides training and employment opportunities to East House clients while they are living in one of our residential programs. Darn Good Cookie Company makes and delivers cookie arrangements for customers who are looking to send a delicious and unique gift. The cookies can be also ordered for wedding favors, special occasion favors, holiday baskets, birthday parties, or thank you gifts to corporate customers. East House clients are involved in every portion of the daily operations: taking customer orders over the phone or internet, baking, cleaning, inventory, delivery assistance, decorating and arranging baskets. Since its inception, eighteen clients have worked at Darn Good Cookie Company.

The Career Services program has changed and grown over the last 25 years and currently provides a greater number of services to more clients than at any time in the past. One thing hasn’t changed, and that is our commitment to providing person-centered goal planning and vocational rehabilitation to individuals in recovery. The partnership between the residential treatment staff, and the vocational staff, has proven to be effective in the success of our clients. East House strives to meet the whole needs of the person and move lives forward to independence.

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