A few weeks ago, Matt Kjos was sitting at the Salvation Army where he had been living for the last month, wondering what was next for him.
After losing his job, home and family due to addiction, he had been stuck in a cycle of homelessness and couldn’t find solid ground to land on.
“I could not get my feet on the ground to start a life over,” Kjos said. He prayed, saying it was a last resort, hoping he would find clarity on what to do next.
“I called a friend of mine the next day and asked him if he knew anything that was available for housing, because I was looking for somewhere to go in a few weeks,” Kjos said. His friend referred him to Next Chapter La Crosse.
“Within a week,” Kjos said, “before you know it I’m living in this house. So in my mind, my prayers were answered in this huge way.”
Kjos has now been living in the Next Chapter La Crosse Discipleship Home at 713 Ferry St. for the last two weeks, one of the first two residents to call the place home since it opened on July 1.
The house is a transitional home for men who are stuck in the incarceration or addiction cycle, and need safe and secure housing to get back on their feet.
“Everyone loves a second chance. And we believe that people should get second chances,” said Chris Crye, executive director of Next Chapter La Crosse.
“And unfortunately, many times, people that are stuck in the cycle of incarceration, they don’t find the opportunities to have a second chance,” he said.
Next Chapter La Crosse, a faith-based nonprofit, partners with businesses, food pantries, mentors and educational groups to help the residents at the home take full advantage of their new opportunity, part of a larger effort to help answer “what’s next,” for so many people.
“They’re coming back into our communities, and we have to ask, what do we do with them? And how do we help them integrate back into society?,” Crye said.
La Crosse County has a recidivism rate of 54%, Crye said, which is just a notch in a larger, national criminal incarceration problem of overcrowding and repeat bookings, and it’s often due to lack of resources.
At the two-story, red home on Ferry Street, its residents have their own room, access to food, kitchens and dining space, clean bathrooms, workout equipment, communal space, a nice fenced-in backyard, computers and reading material, laundry, and a support system.
Just two residents live at the home currently, but three rooms are still available, with a new clothes hamper and clean bedding waiting in each.
The residents are expected to be up with beds made at 8 a.m. each day, and Crye is there, working in an office most business hours.
Twice a week the house has a bible study group, and on Saturday mornings they have a communal breakfast with a support group made up of men in the community.
“That’s something I’ve never had, the love,” said resident Mike Nelson of the support system the house provides. “The actual love, the actual belief in people, that’s what’s amazing to me.”
Nelson moved into the home on July 7, its first resident, after a long cycle of incarceration.
Originally from Oakland, California, he was headhunted to help manage a restaurant in La Crosse, and led a successful professional life before he hit a rough patch with few resources or family around.
Just before moving into the home, Nelson was at the La Crosse County Jail, and the program has helped him get the footing he needed.
“To be able to know your things are going to be there when you come home, to have some food in the cupboard, and to be able to be nourished enough to go out and spend a day, whether it be job hunting or going to school, whatever it is you’re trying to do, to know that you have love and support,” Nelson said.
The program offers housing for individuals for 6-12 months, and they begin paying a rental fee after the first one-and-a-half months, and the rest of the services are provided through donations and sponsors.
There’s no strict guidelines for those eligible to stay, but the home does not offer addiction counseling or programming, and it’s largely open for men who are already meeting those needs themselves.
“You need to be ready to make a change,” Nelson said.
For Kjos, he’s been in-and-out of homelessness and treatment facilities since 2016, but in the last year has gotten a handle on his sobriety.
“I was just, it got to the point where I was just content kind of doing nothing, because I was just so depressed and life didn’t mean anything anymore. Everything I had was gone,” Kjos said.
“Still not being able to put my feet in the ground and not even feeling like I wanted to, to be honest,” he said.
But in just the two short weeks at the home, he has already gained the clarity and support he said he’s always needed.
“This place has given me so much already. Just the — I can’t even explain it the things that have happened in the last couple weeks,” Kjos said.
Those involved in the program said they expect it to “blossom” in the coming weeks and months, and are already looking ahead to adding more homes in the community and opening its services up to more than just men.
Without the Next Chapter La Crosse home, Nelson said he wasn’t sure where he’d be today.
“I’d like to think that I would beat the cycle whether I had this or not,” he said, but he remembers the cycle of trying to find a job with a criminal record while battling homelessness too well, calling it a “no-man’s land.”
“It never ends,” he said of the cycle, “so I would be back in jail.”
To connect with the group to donate, mentor or connect a possible resident, please contact the group at [email protected], 608-461-7006, on Facebook at facebook.com/nextchapterlacrosse/, or at nextchapterlacrosse.org.
“Everyone loves a second chance. And we believe that people should get second chances.”
Chris Crye, executive director of Next Chapter La Crosse.
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