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Interview: Kalamazoo Defender's Director Previews Community 'Village' Office

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Kalamazoo Defender | David Birkam
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A year ago last month, Kalamazoo County got its first public defender’s office. Kalamazoo Defender Executive Director Joshua Hilgart says they’ve learned a lot in that year. That includes that roughly more than 60 percent of the 5,000 low-income criminal defendants it served are battling other issues, such as unstable housing, mental illness, joblessness and addiction. Hilgart tells us more in an interview that aired today.

Soon about a dozen service providers will be housed under the same roof as the Kalamazoo Defender’s downtown Kalamazoo headquarters to help clients address those needs. It’s called The Village. Hilgart says he’s not aware of any other public defender’s office using this model.

“We decided it would be much better to bring the services to the client,” Hilgart tells WMUK’s Earlene McMichael in an interview taped at his office.

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Credit Courtesy photo | Kalamazoo Defender
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He says centralizing the services that clients need in one location will mean fewer bus trips to get the help they need, plus agencies “can work together to coordinate care in a much more expedient way.”

Hilgart says The Village could open as early as September.

“We have over 20 organizations that have helped us in this project and not all of them will be situated on the second floor (of the Comerica building),” where Kalamazoo Defender occupies the third floor and part of the second floor, Hilgart says. He adds that most of the service providers will have a presence in the building.

The Village is funded with grant dollars, including from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, and Harold and Grace Upjohn Foundation. Hilgart says more funding is being sought so services could be open to the general public, as well as Kalamazoo Defender clients. 

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Interview with WMUK's Earlene McMichael & Joshua Hilgart (Air version)

  

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Among those planning to be on-site are: Borgess and Bronson hospitals, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Family Health Center, Gryphon Place, Housing Resources Inc. and Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (now Integrated Services of Kalamazoo).

Other partners include Michigan Works!, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Open Doors, Ministry With Community, Recovery Institute of Southwest Michigan, Inc.; WMU School of Social Work, Kalamazoo County Bar Association and the Kalamazoo Public Library.

Hilgart says WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine will help to measure outcomes.