By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
THE NEXT DAY, FRIDAY, JOANIE GETS UP AT 7 A.M. TO DO her laundry. She has not had the spare change to feed the coin-operated washer and dryer in her apartment basement for several weeks, and the dirty clothes have piled up. "I did seven loads," she says. "It cost me $9.50, and I wasn't done till quarter to 3 in the afternoon. But everything is clean now," she says. "And being clean is real important to me." The happy orgy of washing was partially inspired by the fact that Joanie believes she has a line on a job. "My girlfriend called and told me that they're hiring where she works at Harbor General. She's coming tomorrow, Saturday, and is going to tell me more about it." However, Saturday the friend doesn't show up. "She had to work late," says Joanie. "But I still think I have a really good chance of getting that job. I'm telling you, something good's gonna happen. I just feel it."
Sunday and Monday it rains. Tuesday the weather has cleared, so Joanie decides to go to the Department of Social Services building, "so I can check the job boards at GROW," she says. General Relief Opportunities for Work -- or GROW -- is the newest requirement for GR "employables." A welfare-to-work-style job-training and -placement program, it was first implemented on February 1, 1999, as part of the county's plan for weaning people from GR. But of the 25,284 people referred to the GROW program in its first four months, only 641 have found jobs -- one-third of which are part-time.
A Department of Social Services memo outlining the three basic components of GROW -- Orientation, Job Club and Vocational Assessment -- is written in a chipper, can-do tone. "Job Club [is] a three-week activity consisting of a one-week job-skills workshop and two weeks of directed job-search activities," reads the memo. "Activities are designed to motivate, build self-esteem and self-confidence, improve self-image and develop workplace skills. Professional vocational assessors determine what participants need to obtain jobs if they remain unemployed after Job Club."
For participants, the staff has developed a professional-looking notebook labeled "Passport to Success," which is handed out on orientation day. Inside are 14 sections that serve various functions. There are spaces where goals may be listed, a calendar on which the participant is encouraged to map out a "plan of action," a phone and address directory for "networking," even a separate page on which one may recall favorite songs that made one feel positive about oneself. "What we do may seem like soft skills," says Job Club workshop coordinator Kelly Lingel, "but with people who haven't worked in a long time, it's where we have to start."
In March, Joanie completed both Orientation and Job Club. She sniffs when she hears the official description. "You want to know what you do in Job Club?" ã she asks. "You learn to write a résumé, which I already knew how to do, and they tell you to dress neat and clean for an interview, like I don't know that! Then you spend the rest of the three weeks calling numbers out of the Yellow Pages to ask people who don't want to hear from you if they're hiring." She shakes her head in exasperation. "They were supposed to have a bunch of employers from different companies come down to talk to us, but that never happened. On the last day, one guy from a place that needed security guards did come. But the requirements were to have finished high school and have no felonies." She laughs. "So nobody in the room could even apply." Another shake of her head. "I'll say it to anybody. GROW is worthless! Nobody I know has found a single job through GROW."
Even staff members admit that the end goal of all GROW's earnest coaching is maddeningly elusive. "The problem," says Tony Iniguez, director of GROW's Metro Special district, "is that we don't have 13,000 positions waiting at the end of the training," a situation that is unlikely to change, he adds, unless the county's employers play a greater role in welfare-to-work. "So in essence what GROW is doing," concludes Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Los Angeles Coalition To End Hunger and Homelessness, "is spending nine months and a lot of money putting people through a vocational-training program, at the end of which they're all kicked off a cliff without a rope."
One of the proactive things the GROW office does do is to post job listings, and Joanie makes a point of checking them regularly. "The job with my friend still looks good," she says, "but I'm not going to put all my eggs in one basket." She smiles pleasantly at the guard at the door of the Social Services building, passes quickly through the metal detector, then takes the elevator to the fourth floor, where the GROW offices are located. Around the corner from the elevators, some 100 slips of paper are tacked to a series of freestanding bulletin boards. The jobs posted are divided into categories: cook, clerical, janitorial, security guard and so on. Near the boards are banks of telephones where homeless applicants can make calls to set up interviews.