MILWAUKEE — Confronting swelling urban unemployment, Milwaukee’s only daytime homeless shelter has announced the opening of a job center.
Repairers of the Breach will open the center in May, according to its executive director, MacCanon Brown. She described the new center and its goals at a celebratory opening event in Gesu Parish Center’s Father Herian Hall last Nov. 10.
The center will be housed in a second-floor classroom and office suite, once renovation of the building at 1335 W. Vliet St., is complete. It will include computer and Internet access, as well as meeting, mentoring and play-acting space.
Brown added that she’d like to keep the job center open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, necessitating as many as 200 volunteers. “That’s how many we could use ideally,” she said. “Call the office if you’re interested.”
The center will offer recruitment assistance for local businesses, as well as resources and connections for the homeless, said Don Utech, coordinator of the new center, and former vice president of operations for UNICO/Regal Beloit.
“Not a lot of our clients make it regularly. They’re there and then they’re gone. So we’d like to have a buffet of services to offer every day,” he said.
He expects to offer professional planning, resume writing, job assessments and placement, role playing and interview preparation, he said, as well as connecting to schools, scholarships and jobs clubs.
“We’ll definitely work on so-called ‘soft skills’ – which include clothing and attire, general appearance, work ethic, timeliness and the business environment,” said Utech, explaining the center coordinators will try to create a family atmosphere.
“Our goals have always been dignity, hope, guidance, family, listening and encouragement,” he said.
Repairers of the Breach has traditionally offered services such as showers and clothes, and mailing addresses and telephones, which are of use to those seeking unemployment.
The shelter – which includes a café and living room – estimates that it serves more than 100 people daily. They’re provided health care screenings, violence reduction programs, support groups, veterans outreach efforts and connections to local social services.
Repairers of the Breach will also add a medical center, laundry room and quiet space during this expansion.
During the event, Utech outlined the job center’s structure, goals and focus.
“Unemployment is at a crisis level in Milwaukee, including 60 percent among African-American males,” said Utech. “Sixty percent! You’ve probably read all about it. What you might not have read about is the discriminatory hiring and incredibly high recidivism we’ve found among the populations with which we work. Lots of guys get out of prison, then go back to the neighborhood and get back to work. They work hard. It’s just not legal work.”
He offered examples such as Spanish-owned Talgo, a high speed train company that was to build cars for a high speed train service between Milwaukee and Madison.
Although the project would have been funded in part by $810 million in stimulus funding, it would have also cost taxpayers an estimated $7.5 million a year and was ultimately stopped by Gov. Scott Walker.
“(I) don’t know how you feel about the (proposed high-speed) train, but that was 500 workers, literally in the very heart of Milwaukee (at the former Tower Automotive plant at 27th and Townsend St.),” said Utech. He called the decision to end the project “disastrous.”
Utech was also critical of the West Lawn Project, a former housing project on the northwest side, that is being rebuilt.
“I went and walked through,” he said. “There was maybe one black face there. It was contracted to a Madison company, and no one was hired locally – for a project built to serve the most devastated part of Milwaukee. It’s cruel really.”
Utech also provided a list of potential programming initiatives, calling upon his professional experience and know-how.
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“We’re working with the African-American Chamber of Commerce, and we’ll be a part of MICAH (Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope http://www.micahempowers.org/),” he said.
“One thing that’s keeping us out of really large projects is a lack of funding and loans,” he said. “So we’d like to form a virtual company among the city’s African Americans, Hispanics and Hmong. Hopefully, it will be big enough that we can get bonding from banks, the same as a large company would.”
Utech also thanked contributing individuals and groups.
Essential to the project, he said, are Gesu Parish’s social ministry coordinator Eileen Ciezki and its pastor, Jesuit Fr. Karl Voelker.
He also thanked Sheila Semrou, who provided the center’s “homey and professional, comfortable but flexible” interior decoration.
Daryn Peres of the Jesuit-inspired Men Serving Others group – which acquired furniture for the new center and provided storage for it – also attended the event.
Utech also called forward and thanked Marquette University’s Dorothy Day Students: Annie O’Donnell, Jack Howard, and Sofi Gomez.
The trio, he said, already volunteer at the center “and have done six weeks of interviews in the run-up; asking about individual’s aspirations, needs, dreams, experiences, and the like. We found that often there’s a lack of hope out there.”
“We have all made bad decisions,” he said. “But circumstances and consequences are clearly not equal across the board. A lot of people we deal with don’t trust ‘the man.’ So, thankfully, we’re there to say, ‘What do you need?’ and then offer it. We know that it is just by God’s graces that we are where we are.”
He expects the toughest part will be funding.
“MacCanon (Brown) is real big on not taking government money. So we’ll rely on private donors, and corporate sponsors, same as always. Northwestern Mutual Life and Manpower International have been especially kind to us. You know, especially today it’s tough. But working with people is such a joy; we do it gladly,” he said.
“This is the culmination of seven years of fund-raising. It’s great to see the fruit born,” Brown said. “Check the website. Pray for us. Stay on the journey.”