A hopeful graduation at Cottage Housing’s Serna Village

Jeff vonKaenel

There are no black robes or funny square hats with tassels. They (mercifully) do not play “Pomp and Circumstance.” But, graduation day at Cottage Housing's Serna Village fires on all cylinders in the “hope and accomplishment” department.

Taking care of kids is hard. Taking care of kids when you’re addicted to drugs and alcohol is harder. Throw in homelessness, and it is near hopeless. But this is a common starting point for families when they arrive at Serna Village.

After being accepted into Serna Village, families move into small, well-kept apartments with comprehensive support services on site. In this safe, drug- and alcohol-free environment, the family is given the chance to put their life back together.

But they have to seize the opportunity. They have to remain sober. They have to work or go to school. They have to be involved in running the facility. So, graduation day is very special.

Graduation is not just about leaving Serna Village. Graduation is about being sober. Graduation is about having a home and a job. Graduation is about a lot of hard work and the beginning of a new life.

After attending a graduation ceremony at Serna Village, I saw all the successes. But, I wondered, “What is the cost?”

This is an important question, given our limited funds and unlimited challenges. To help answer this, Sierra Health Foundation commissioned a study of 293 children and youth from approximately 150 families, who lived with one or more parents in Serna Village between 2002 and 2009.

The results are remarkable.

Before entering the program, the child-welfare cost for this group was $1,313,262. After leaving the program, the cost was $295,632. When the study ended, this totaled a savings of more than $1 million.

While similar programs experience 20 to 40 percent of the kids re-entering foster care, Serna Village only had a 10 percent re-entry rate.

These findings are noteworthy both for the success rate compared to other programs and also for the incredible savings. In addition, it’s likely that there will be less emergency-room visits and jail time.

The study recommends that our county child-welfare agencies contract with groups such as Cottage Housing to offer housing, mental-health and case-management support. The end result would be better outcomes for the clients and is also likely to “decrease county child welfare recidivism rates and expensive out-of-home placement.”

Drug addiction, foster care, homelessness—these are big problems. But if we can find programs that work, especially ones that work both for the people as well as our limited budget, we need to expand those programs. Cottage Housing has pointed a way. And we should seize it.

We need more proud graduates. And believe me, there are no prouder graduates that those who have overcome their drug addiction, or those who were previously homeless and now have a job and a home for their kids.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.