Ken Roberts spent more than one-third of his life in prison.
The 53-year-old Longview pastor began breaking the law when he was 15. During his last stint in prison he decided he needed a change.
Roberts went straight from prison to the Faithful Servants transitional house in Kelso, which provides clean and sober housing for those recovering from addiction or getting out of prison. Now, seven years later, he is the organization’s executive director.
“I never thought I would end up here,” Roberts said.
After moving through the Faithful Servants program, Roberts went on to become a church leader and associate pastor. Roberts became re-involved with Faithful Servants over a year and a half ago when he joined the board of directors.
Board member Lloyd Smith suggested Roberts take over as executive director after the previous leader stepped down about a year ago.
“He has a real heart for it and a real knack for it,” Smith said.
The houses aren’t treatment centers but give residents a place to live away from drugs, alcohol or crime. Smith said at one time Faithful Servants had five houses and all but one closed. The women’s transitional house in Castle Rock closed in 2013 after the organization couldn’t find a new location. The other houses closed because of lack of leadership, Smith said.
The Faithful Servants Ministry opened a second South Kelso house in mid-November. Seven men live in the new house, and about 10 reside in the old location. The two houses can hold up to 25 men.
Smith said he spends a lot of time at the houses talking to the residents and helping them in any way he can. Roberts has made some changes to the organization he is excited about, Smith said.
The organization began with strict rules for residents, such as remaining clean and sober, attending morning Bible sessions, church services and a recovery program. Residents also have to pay rent.
Roberts kept many of those requirements and added a one-to-two-week “blackout period” for residents when they first move in. During that time, the new resident must get Robert’s permission to go anywhere and is encouraged to use the time to take care of any medical or legal issues and, if eligible, to get on food assistance or disability. Residents also have to outline goals they want to pursue.
“My goal is to lift them up and give them direction,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he also made some changes to the organization’s structure. Previously, some residents were given leadership positions, but Roberts said they often “pursued their own interests.” Now, he is the only one with authority to accept or expel residents.
Faithful Servants is working against the odds to help people successfully transition from prison and have a meaningful recovery from addiction, Roberts said. According to the National Institute of Justice, about two-thirds of prisoners are rearrested within three years of release. The relapse rate for those with substance use disorders ranges from 40 percent to 60 percent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“It’s difficult, but we beat the odds,” Roberts said. “We develop a support system and have accountability.”
Smith said Roberts has changed the direction of the ministry from a house people were just living in to a program they must work through. Many residents stay in the houses, and those leaving since Roberts has taken over have had good results, Smith said.
Roberts works with residents struggling to follow the house rules by getting them into treatment or finding other solutions, Smith said.
Roberts said his past allows him to develop a better relationship with residents. He knows if they are going going to get drunk or high before they do it, he said. Roberts said can better work with residents if they are honest with him.
Faithful Servants also encourages participants give back to the community, Roberts said. The residents volunteered to help pick up donations during Lower Columbia CAP’s Walk and Knock food drive Saturday. They also volunteer during the Harvest Classic 10K.
Some residents stick around longer than others, but the goal is to for them to move into their own home and become an asset to the community, Roberts said.
Roberts balances his role as executive director with a full-time job in construction. He said he gets between 40 and 60 phone calls per day from residents and other agencies.
Smith wants to increase the organization’s budget enough to pay Roberts a salary so he can work full-time as director. That would allow Roberts to dedicate more time to applying for grants and expanding the organization.
The houses are self-supporting, but there isn’t enough money to pay Roberts a salary, Smith said. The organization is planning to ask for donations from churches and pursue grants, he said.
It’s been less than a month since residents moved into the new Faithful Servants house, but Roberts is already looking for another new house. Roberts said he would like to open a house for women, but would need more money and volunteer support to run it.
Roberts said he would also like to change the community’s view of the transitional houses’ residents.
“I want to affect this community and change the perspective, so people don’t have such a negative view of those stuck in substance abuse or who made bad choices in their past,” Roberts said. “People can overcome their past. If I can do it, anyone can.”