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C.C. We Adapt founder provides information on proposed Clark County skills center

By Valorie Brecht, Tribune Record Gleaner Many Clark County residents are facing housing insecurity or circumstances in which an unexpected major expense could be the difference between having a place to live and being on the street. There are resources available through various county departments and local organizations, but the challenge is connecting those resources to the people who need them the most.

To the Clark County Housing Coalition, part of the solution looks like opening an independent living skills center in Neillsville for unhoused individuals or those dealing with housing insecurity. The county board voted in August to approve repurposing the old Neillsville Senior Center at the corner of Oak and Sixth streets into a shelter, but hasn’t taken formal action beyond that.

The county board heard from David Carlson, founder of C.C. We Adapt and co-founder of Next Generation Mentors and Next Generation Properties, at its last meeting. Carlson would like to see the old senior center building used as a skills center and for the county to lease it to him for $1 a month, with the idea that Carlson’s business would operate the services but the county would retain ownership and oversight. C.C. We Adapt would pay utilities for the property.

Carlson envisions the center as serving as a safety net for those individuals and families who have fallen on hard times and need a boost to get back to a place of economic stability. To put things in perspective, he shared some statistics from Data USA. Clark County has a population of 34,655. Twenty percent of residents are uninsured, which equates to 6,931 residents. In addition, 15.3% are on Medicaid, which has a household income cutoff of $33,064 or less per year for a family of three.

“So, you have your medical needs taken care of, if you’re on Medicaid, but if your car breaks down, your refrigerator breaks down, heat goes out — any type of catastrophic event happens elsewhere in your life, you can’t recoup that. You can’t recover very easily.

“For the 20 percent who don’t have health insurance, a broken arm, a serious sickness, anything like that can derail you. You can lose everything in a heartbeat, one hospital stay,” said Carlson.

More than a third of county residents are uninsured or on Medicaid, meaning they are in a vulnerable position where they risk being unable to make it financially were a catastrophic event to occur.

“This is the population that we’re really trying to prevent ending up on the streets while also transitioning individuals off the streets,” said Carlson.

For those people transitioning off the streets, the center will serve as a place to cultivate independent living skills. These include positive and productive routine development, financial literacy, mental health, substance addiction coping strategies, emotional regulation and healthy family bonding techniques.

Carlson used a tiered system to describe the different types of individuals who may be in need of temporary housing. Tier 1 individuals are those who need a little support and a lot of opportunity. They may stay in a facility for up to two weeks. They may have temporary transportation and/or food needs, and may have experienced a short-term setback such as illness, taking them off work without benefits. Typically, they need minimal financial assistance to get them going again.

Tier 2 individuals are those for whom moderate support is required — up to six months. They may have experienced a major life crisis such as a job loss or eviction. They may require financial support for basic necessities such as food, shelter or transportation. They also may need job coaching and vocational training.

“For Tier 2, they probably need to get into some sort of DHS (Department of Health Services) programming and support per week or month. But the programs already exist. It’s not any additional payments that need to come out of the county, or out of the municipality,” said Carlson.

Tier 3 individuals are those requiring the most support, in the form of short-term or long-term institutionalization. They may need all the supports listed under Tier 2, as well as counseling, applications for disability/ long-term care programs, or chronic or acute medical intervention.

Carlson said the problem with the existing system is all three tiers are being funneled into one bucket, which slows down the entire system.

Carlson has a facility in Eau Claire which has been assisting Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals, and he sees the Clark County facility as functioning the same way. By assisting these individuals, it frees up time and resources for those requiring a higher level of support.

The Eau Claire facility opened in November of last year. So far, the center has served 15 individuals, including families.

“We’ve had a high success rate and very few have failed out. Part of the reason for that is parents see their kids doing well and the kids are a good incentive for them,” Carlson said.

He is careful to make the distinction that his facility is a skills center, because the purpose is to develop skills in individuals so they are ready to live independently in long-term housing. The shelter is not meant to house individuals for an indefinite amount of time; it’s goal-oriented.

“We’ve developed it based on the needs of the individuals we’re coming across. Again, we’re not homeless shelters, we’re not group homes, we’re not sober living homes — I have three businesses now and all three are for-profit. So, why are they for profit?

“I came up in a system where I was only being served by non-profit group homes or institutions where there was no incentive to actually help me get better. I was cycled through one resource after another and stayed in the same state of despair… So we became for-profit because we can do what we want with our profit, and what we’ve done with that is we’re housing individuals. It started with tenant support and mentorship,” he said.


The Clark County Housing Coalition was formed as an interagency coalition with a purpose of ensuring community access to adequate and affordable housing options. Multiple county departments saw people in their departments with housing needs, and they came together to look for solutions and share resources. Involved entities include the Aging and Disability Resource Center, veterans services office, social services, community services, the sheriff’s office, Neillsville Police Department, Salvation Army, Wisconsin Balance of State Continuum of Care and the Clark County Area Food Pantry and Resource Center.

A little over a year ago, the Clark County Housing Coalition started planning for what it could look like to start an independent living skills development center in the county. As it happened, the logistics pieces fell into place in Eau Claire first, as a collaboration between C.C. We Adapt and another private entity. So a lot of the groundwork has already been laid for a Clark County facility.

Carlson bought a house in Clark County and has been using that as a skills center already, not under the county’s oversight. If the county board were to enter into an agreement to make the Oak Street building into a skills center, Carlson would turn the current house he’s using into transitional housing for individuals who have graduated out of the skills center and have yet to be placed in a rental property.

Carlson also has a separate real estate business and has connections with various real estate investors in the area, so he can find openings for clients ready for a rental.

C.C. We Adapt has provided direct services to Clark County youth since the end of 2018, with “probably a dozen” providers in the county, said Carlson. C.C. We Adapt provides peer support and mentorship services to individuals enrolled in the Department of Health Services’ Comprehensive Community Services program. The mentorship program helps individuals with mental health and/or substance use challenges using lived experience, physical activity and outdoor adventure as vehicles to building relationships that will facilitate further recovery opportunities. C.C. We Adapt has contracts in 29 counties with more than 80 providers. About 65% of the participants in the mentoring program have been in the juvenile justice system.

In the process of helping youth, Carlson discovered a gap between what the youth

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were learning in their mentoring sessions and the home environment they were going back to.

“We were running into a lot of individuals that don’t have stable housing. A lot of our youth were going from home to home… If they have major life instability, that negates any positive impact we can have. So that’s why we developed a housing program,” said Carlson.

There wouldn’t be an additional cost to the county for this shelter to operate; Carlson said Medicaid funding is available to cover the majority of mental health and substance abuse challenges clients face. But there are other state and federal funding sources, including grants, available as well.

“The pool of money already exists; it’s already going out to a lot of different organizations. There’s a lot of organizations doing really good work. It’s just figuring out how to best leverage that funding.

“We’re not here to take over any services from anybody — we want to help the services that are already there,” he added.

He said he would plan to work closely with the partners in the Clark County Housing Coalition, and was willing to train someone from Clark County to work at the skills center, if that is what the county wanted. He also would have opportunities to hire people who have worked through the skills center and are now ready to help someone else. He has many mentors on staff who have gone through significant personal challenges themselves, which helps them to meet the mentee where they’re at.

Carlson has personal experience himself with housing insecurity, which is defined as having moved two or more times in the past year. Carlson was unhoused at age 14 and spent a summer going from place to place in North Minneapolis. He was adopted at age 15. He also did two military tours in Iraq and when he came back, he ended up unhoused again. In 2015, he got out of incarceration and was gradually able to put his life back together.

Now, he has a desire to help other individuals who find themselves in the same situation. Initially he was focused on youth, but now has expanded the vision to youth, families and veterans.

“To really help our youth, we have to help the adults in their life and their families also,” he said. “We have to help the family to have a dynamic that is conducive to the recovery of everybody in the family.”

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