Workers get help to keep hotel jobs Welfare recipients find pay, counseling at Omni

March 11, 1997|By Cheryl L. Tan | Cheryl L. Tan,SUN STAFF

Four years ago, Veronica Whitaker went from being a fairly well-off forklift operator to a divorced mother on welfare, struggling to support her three children. While on welfare, she realized that finding jobs was hard, but staying employed was even harder.

With FUTURE, an employment program for Baltimore welfare recipients that officially was launched yesterday, Whitaker finally has a shot at not just a temporary job, but a new career in the hotel industry that she hopes could help put her teen-agers through college.

FUTURE, a collaboration of the city Department of Social Services, the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel and Baltimore Goodwill Industries, aims to offer welfare recipients jobs in local hotels. To help them adjust to working life and keep their jobs, the program provides on-site counselors. The city will spend $228,000 over the next two years to fund the program.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said FUTURE would provide welfare recipients with important career "building blocks."

"President Clinton has been talking a lot about welfare reform, but to make it work, it's got to happen here on the local level," Schmoke said.

The Omni Hotel launched the program in late January by hiring 13 welfare recipients to work as housekeepers and kitchen and restaurant staff. The recipients are on probation for 90 days. During that time the hotel pays them a $30-per-week stipend in addition to their welfare benefits. After the probationary period, they will be paid a regular salary and gradually taken off welfare.

The Rev. Douglas Miles, former co-chair of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), said he feels that FUTURE's effort may be hurting welfare recipients more than it helps.

"This provides employers with free labor totally subsidized by the government with no obligation to provide permanent employment," he said.

The program may not offer guaranteed employment, but it does try to help recipients keep their jobs by providing problem-solving support through the on-site counselors, said Yvonne Gilchrist, director of the Department of Social Services.

"You can hire someone off the streets, but if you don't have a support system, they can't keep the job," Gilchrist said. "You're telling someone who may not have worked before what to do. There's a lot of adjustment."

Peter Bheda, the general manager of Omni Hotel who helped create the program, said it also is essential that recipients are treated as regular employees.

"Here, they're not being looked at as people who have come through the Department of Social Services," he said. " They're just like anybody else."

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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