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COUCH'S CORNER: Recycling Lives takes different approach to homeless problem

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked about navigation centers for our homeless population, places where people can go to get services, a place to sleep and then hopefully get set up for housing.

In this week’s Couch’s Corner, I wanted to discuss Recycling Lives, which employs a different approach to solving our homeless problem — that of getting people who are down and out paid work experience so that they can get jobs and then get their own housing. For those who are able to work, this program makes the greatest sense both fiscally and purposefully. It’s the old adage proven true: When you give a person a fish, he eats for a day. When you teach him to fish, he eats for life.

RL, you may have heard before, is a job skills training program that pulverizes glass bottles and recycles them into sand and gravel products that can then be reused in a variety of ways. Glass has always been the hardest recyclable to recycle due to economics, but having a local solution helps solve that problem. More importantly, Recycling Lives takes people who have been down and out and “recycles” them into well-trained, employable workers capable of being placed throughout the local labor market.

RL has been in operation now since last summer, thanks to a donation from the Lazzerini Foundation and some grant money they were able to obtain. To date they have received 37 students. These students are facing barriers to successful employment due to homelessness, incarcerations and long-term unemployment. Students range from 21 years of age to 69.

The class, also called a cohort, is 14 weeks long. When complete, it includes certifications including forklift, tractor, CPR, hazardous materials, confined space and basic work environment safety. Students also get rigorous instruction on successful work behaviors such as integrity, initiative, punctuality, cooperation, poise, adaptability, reliability, loyalty, honesty and more. All of those soft skills can so often be determinants of a successful career.

Currently, RL is in week three of its fourth cohort. Of the 27 students in the first three cohorts, 21 now have permanent jobs. They are employed in locations such as Johnson Screens, Cox Petroleum, City Auction Warehouse, Boys & Girls Club, Jason’s Retreat, Costco, Stanford Trucking, County of Kern and more. Each student leaves with an individual development plan, resume and interview skills. After they complete their training, RL staff follows up with them and their new employer to make sure all is going according to plan.

These are the kinds of programs I love to support, as these types of programs teach self-sufficiency and give purpose to these lives that have not known purpose. That is why I am so excited about this and other programs my District 4 staff has been involved in, such as creating jobs using Bakersfield Homeless Center clients to pick up litter and now a host of other activities.

Recently, we helped a food bank get job skills training funding and other grant money to teach the homeless in the Taft area food handling so that in Taft the homeless are actually feeding the hungry. I’m working with other communities in District 4 and Kern to make this a countywide initiative.

In fact, I believe in this direction so much that I am supporting my district director, Sal Moretti, as he transfers to Employer Training Resource, the department where RL exists, so that he can better assist ETR develop these types of programs.

Sal, it’s been great working with you on District 4 and countywide issues these last four years, and I look forward to continuing our collaborations as you make this transition into your new job. Good luck!

Got any questions about this or any other District 4 matter, don’t hesitate to contact us at or at 661-868-3680. Have a safe week.

David Couch represents Kern County’s 4th District.