Proposed city-owned hotel could aid chronically jobless

July 14, 2005|By DAN RODRICKS

IF THE BALTIMORE City Council approves the new, city-owned $305 million downtown convention center hotel, the O'Malley administration should put in place a smartly coordinated, two-year work force development plan to turn some of the city's most chronically unemployed adults into a proud, drug-clean and well-trained staff for the facility. What the city needs is a deep reach into its underclass with between 300 and 400 jobs to Baltimoreans who show genuine willingness to change and get into the mainstream. There's nothing far-fetched about this, especially with about three years between the hotel's approval and its opening. There's time to make it happen.

And it wouldn't be the first time a major new hotel reached out to city residents with jobs. The Mayor's Office of Employment Development helped the Marriott Waterfront Hotel hire workers in advance of its opening in 2001. Through the city's recruitment efforts, 423 men and women got jobs at the Marriott. Karen Sitnik, director of the employment office, says the majority of those workers were hired through job fairs held in the city.

A similar effort, she said, will be made with Hilton on the proposed convention hotel.

This time, the effort should be more comprehensive by offering prospective workers services they need - training in life skills, drug treatment, graduate equivalency, etc. - through the employment office's many partners in work force development. It would be an extraordinary challenge, but the O'Malley administration should drill the pipe deeper to bring in the hardest cases out there. More on this on another day. It's a dream in progress.

A mainstream job

A woman with a young drug dealer in the family called from her job at the Social Security Administration the other day with important news: Her 21-year-old grandson announced suddenly that he was sick of the life - meaning the drug life, hanging on the corners, selling dope, living with the risk of jail or death - and that he intended to apply for a job at Wal-Mart. This was huge, the woman said, because, for the first time ever, her grandson had expressed interest in doing something - anything - other than hanging on the streets.

Another woman called to say her 32-year-old son is fresh out of jail and getting high again, and what he needs is a job. If he had a job, she said, her son might not drift back into the behavior that landed him in City Jail so many times.

"The idle time is the killer," agreed Darryl Logan, the 45-year-old longtime heroin addict profiled in this space a week ago.

Tuesday, Logan checked into Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for another attempt at breaking his addiction. When he comes out, he'll need help finding a job. "Please," he said in a voice message Monday night, "that's what I need more than anything - a job."

Working - keeping busy, keeping off the streets - is a recurring theme among the nearly 40 drug addicts, drug dealers and family members who have called here in the past month, taking me up on the offer of help in finding treatment or a job in return for coming off Baltimore's drug corners.

"Effective treatment for addiction is available in Baltimore City," reports Bow Brenton, an administrator at Tuerk House, a residential treatment facility. "What often leads to post-treatment relapse is the inability to obtain employment. A job `in the straight world' is the important support for recovery that opens up the mainstream of life."

Cooking course

Chef Kurt Clodfelter has started teaching a new cooking class at Moveable Feast in St. Benedict's Church in Southwest Baltimore, and among those who signed up for the 12-week course is Towanda Reaves, the recovering drug addict and heroin seller profiled in this space a few weeks ago. Vince Williams, operations director at Moveable Feast, says the new students are "absolutely awesome," but the class size is a little small. Sixteen signed up, but only 11 have posted for this first week of lectures. Anyone interested in the course should contact Chef Kurt at 410-327-3420.

Part-time work wanted

A drug dealer named Donyell, profiled in this space June 12, says he has enrolled in a trade school to take a basic electrical technology course starting in two weeks. Donyell, who asked that neither his last name nor his photograph be used in print because he's only two weeks removed from heroin sales, is 29 years old, and lives with his mother and supports two children. While he's attending the trade school, he says, he would like a part-time job. He has experience as a janitor.

Persons who are interested in hiring any of the ex-offenders profiled in recent columns can contact Dan Rodricks at 410-332-6166.

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