It’s bad break after bad break, says John (not his real name), who was homeless about a year before obtaining supportive housing and then finding a full-time job through the Career Center for the homeless, which operates under the radar at the Santa Clara Adult Education Center.
For some homeless, the cause of unemployment is substance abuse, a mental health issue, or criminal record. But for those such as John, the cause is situational—a perfect storm of bad breaks.
The loss of a partner left John without childcare. He quit his night job to be with his 10-year-old child and fell behind on the rent. An unpaid ticket led to the loss of his driver’s license, leaving him without transportation to his day job. He lost that job. He could no longer afford to pay for storage, so he lost all his personal belongings. He used up his savings on motel rooms and ended up sleeping in his truck with his child.
From having nice things to having nothing is beyond humbling. But my biggest fear was losing my child. Nobody wants to help a single dad with a child. The shelters only help moms, says John.
The Career Center for the homeless, part of a Santa Clara County collaborative on affordable housing and homeless issues, has been helping people like John find employment since 1996. The center (1840 Benton Street, room 83, phone: 408/423-3500), is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It operates on a $200,534 annual, renewable federal HUD grant. It succeeds thanks to the dedication of the center’s five part-time workers.
The grant is not a huge amount of money, but we try to help our clients get over any obstacle to employment as best we can with the amount we have, says Leah Gronlund, grant coordinator.
If you see someone homeless, it’s an automatic judgment that they’re less than me, says John. But these people [at the Career Center] are angels. They care. They take you at face value and don’t judge you. They go out of their way. They built me a resume the first day.
The Career Center serves from 500 to 600 homeless people yearly. Some drop in just once, perhaps to have an ID card made or get bus tokens. About half use the career services.
Apparently, if you ride the 22 [bus], you hear all about us, says Alison Dougherty, Career Center job placement coordinator. The 22 runs up and down El Camino Real from Palo Alto to San Jose. It’s the only 24-hour bus. People sleep on it.
A homeless client participating in job counseling qualifies for free vocational classes, assistance with resume writing, meals at the on-site cafeteria, bus passes or tokens to get to a class, interview, or job, and career clothes. Contributions are especially needed of men’s dress shirts, slacks, and shoes in good condition.
Inside the Career Center are computer stations, telephones, and fax and copy machines for client use. Anne Davenport, Career Center Advisor, and Maikhanh Le, Administrative Support, are on hand to help. Career Specialist Penny Rylee oversees the clothes closet and conducts job interview skills classes.
Thank you for your class…I gained a lot of useful information, especially about how to answer some interview questions that may come up…[and] through the feedback from the other students, wrote former client Mary in a thank you note.
I would recommend this program, says Lisa, one of five participants in a recent class. You don’t have to go through too much to get help. They’re right here on it.
If this center wasn’t here, I would still be in a truck, says John. This place opens doors for you.
Some Career Center clients have already signed up for a March 17 forklift certificate training class.