A Circle of Hope

Young homeless men work to turn their lives around in Home on the Range

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The residents

Here's a look at the young men currently living at Home on the Range: http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/jan/23/starting-over/

photoEdward Oeck spends a recent morning cleaning horse stalls at Royal Ridges Retreat in Amboy. Oeck is a resident at the nearby Home on the Range.

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photoEdward Oeck, left, DJ MacDavid, center, and Jamison Bryant clean horse stalls at Royal Ridges Retreat on a recent morning.

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photoChris Winkel, left, and Jamison Bryant prepare horses for riding lessons at Royal Ridges Retreat. Winkel, Bryant and the other residents work at the retreat five days a week.

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photoDJ MacDavid plays the piano after dinner at Home on the Range in Amboy.

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photoJared Curtiss talks about his recovery from drug and alcohol addictions. Curtiss graduated from the Home on the Range program and now works as a supervisor at Royal Ridges Retreat.

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photoResident DJ MacDavid waits for Bible study to start.

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Two years ago, Jared Curtiss was a functioning alcoholic and drug addict. He drank while on the clock at his construction job and took whatever drugs he could get his hands on.

His addictions cost him his house, his driver’s license and, eventually, his job.

“I lived a very destructive lifestyle,” the 25-year-old said.

Eleven months ago, Devin Jacob “DJ” MacDavid was homeless. After a couple of months of couch-surfing, MacDavid had nowhere to turn, severing most of his relationships while addicted to heroin.

He took shelter in a cardboard-recycling bin behind Battle Ground High School — the school he once attended and where he once was a member of the wrestling team.

“I realized how bad it was because I would hop out of my Dumpster and go hunt for money” to buy heroin or alcohol, MacDavid, 18, said.

Curtiss and MacDavid are just two examples of the hundreds of homeless people taking refuge in Clark County.

A one-day snapshot in January 2010 counted 1,104 homeless people in the county. Of those, 209 were living on the streets as opposed to emergency or transitional housing, according to the Council for the Homeless.

Today, Curtiss and MacDavid are off the streets and living in a transitional home called Home on the Range. They’re participating in a vocational training program and working to turn their lives around.

Home on the Range

Home on the Range is a 7,600-square-foot home situated on 7½ acres outside Yacolt. The privately funded program houses six 18- to 25-year-old men for nine to 12 months. Everyone who enters the program does so voluntarily.

Many of the men have histories of addiction, homelessness or criminal activity. For the most part, those histories don’t prevent a person from being accepted. However, men at Home on the Range cannot have any past sex offenses or pending criminal charges of any sort. The main requirement for admission into the program is a desire to make a change.

For those who enter committed to changing their lives, transformations are evident.

“It’s been an incredible change in my life,” Curtiss said. “I’m not doing drugs anymore. I’m not in jail anymore. I’m healthy.”

“There’s a lot of good stuff going on here,” he added. “It’s a blessing.”

In the home, the men learn responsibility and basic life skills. They’re responsible for keeping their rooms clean, doing their laundry and preparing meals. They have weekly chores, from preparing dinner to dusting, scrubbing the bathroom to vacuuming floors.

They’re also building social and familial relationships with their “brothers” in the house. They play games, have movie nights and practice music on the baby grand piano in the living room. They also break into wrestling matches and smack each other with pillows.

“We fight and get over it, just like a family does,” Curtiss said.

For many of them, the home has also given them a chance to reconnect with God and strengthen their faith. Most of the men participate in and lead Bible studies at home and at their churches in the community.

House parents Jack and Jan Narvel live in an apartment in the house and provide guidance and supervision. The men earn privileges, such as spending time away from the home, by building trust and proving they’re responsible.

On weekdays, the men have jobs at nearby Royal Ridges Retreat, a 390-acre center that offers horsemanship programs and Christian youth camps.

Every morning, the men are responsible for feeding the center’s 32 horses and cleaning the horses’ stalls. They also maintain the grounds, doing everything from building fences to repairing existing structures. During the summer months, when the retreat is buzzing with kids at youth camps, the men help on the rock wall and ropes course.

The job teaches the men a work ethic and teamwork, traits many of them admit they were lacking before.

Transitional Youth

Home on the Range is the second of five phases of the nonprofit Transitional Youth program founded by Prudential Northwest Properties President Bert Waugh Jr. For years, Waugh and his wife gave street kids beds to sleep in at their Yamhill County, Ore., home. Then, in 1991, Waugh began the faith-based Transitional Youth program.

“The disadvantaged and especially youth and street kids have been on my heart going back to high school,” the 67-year-old said.

Fewer resources are available for homeless young adults — ages 18 to 25 — than for minors and older adults, Waugh said. So Waugh made it his mission to reach as many young adults as he could and provide them with resources, opportunity and hope.

“It’s virtually impossible to get all these kids off the streets,” he said. “But I can just do what I can, as one man, taking one step in front of the other and do the best that I can to change their lives.”

The first phase of the program is outreach through a drop-in center in downtown Portland. The center serves meals three nights a week and provides homeless youth with clothing and support. Each year, the center serves more than 10,000 meals.

The second phase of the program is Home on the Range, which opened in September 2009. So far, three men have graduated from the program.

The next phase of the program is Home in the Suburbs, located in Hazel Dell. The 18- to 24-month residential program requires the residents to hold down jobs and/or attend school. The house opened in 2004 and, like Home on the Range, house parents live on site.

Residents are responsible for paying rent, although all of the rent money is returned when they move out. That saved money is the key to phase four, in which residents use their savings to pay the deposit and rent for their own apartments or homes.

In the fifth phase of the program, Transitional Youth and Prudential Northwest Properties help participants purchase their own home. Nobody has reached this stage of the program yet, but at least one resident at Home on the Range plans to use the assistance in the future.

The entire program is privately funded from a variety of sources, including corporations and foundations. Several agents with Prudential Northwest and Columbia Mortgage dedicate a percentage of each transaction to the program, as well, Waugh said. The Portland St. Vincent de Paul food bank provides some food for the drop-in center and homes; area businesses donate manpower and supplies for home improvements; and churches hold clothing and supply drives for residents. In addition, the foundation holds four fundraisers each year.

Back on track

Curtiss and MacDavid sum up the Transitional Youth program in one word: blessing.

After Curtiss lost his construction job, he couch surfed for a while, looking for a way to support his destructive lifestyle. His parents allowed him to move back into their home if he agreed to get help. Curtiss wrestled with his addictions for nine months before getting clean.

A year ago, Curtiss learned about Home on the Range. He completed the program in August and was hired as a supervisor at Royal Ridges. He also serves as a resident assistant at the house.

After a living in a Dumpster for the summer, MacDavid got in touch with his youth pastor, who gave him the phone number for Transitional Youth. He arrived at Home on the Range in August.

“It’s made me realize how off I was,” MacDavid said. “And now, I’m on track.”

Staying there doesn’t always come easy.

At times, the guys slip, perhaps putting themselves in all-too-familiar situations from their past. Many of the men are still learning what “safe” environments look like, house parent Jan Narvel said. When mistakes happen, the men know they have a houseful of brothers and two parents who will hold them accountable, she said.

“Every learning opportunity we can grab a hold of, we do,” she said.

For each of them, progress and advancement at Royal Ridges is tied to success in the house. They cannot founder in one arena and still advance in the other, Jan Narvel said.

The residents also have goals, short- and long-term, and have evaluations with Jan Narvel and a counselor who visits regularly to determine progress and setbacks. In addition to the expectations at home and at the ranch, some of the men have court-ordered treatment programs to attend or conditions of probation to meet.

Every day presents a new challenge.

“Some things you can’t mend, but you try to fix the ones you can,” said 21-year-old Chris Winkel.

Winkel moved into Home on the Range five months ago after four years of homelessness and methamphetamine addiction. And while his stay hasn’t always been easy, Winkel said he’s developed a sense of self-worth and respect for himself and others that he may have never learned otherwise.

“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said. “It’s the only good thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s a new start.”

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.