Seattle-area job training program for formerly-homeless people graduates 1st class

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Some of the homeless people who got swept from encampments along Washington’s freeways are now making inroads into the job market—with help from a unique training program.

The first class of graduates gathered on Friday to celebrate their accomplishments and share how far they’d come. Each took turns at a podium to give their personal story.

“My name is Rawlly Snyder and before I came here I was a wreck,” said one of the seven people who are part of that graduating class.

The program participants had been living in encampments along freeways when Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the sites cleared and for the people to be connected to services. It was part of the State Encampment Resolution program launched 18 months ago to clear the rights of way.

I lived basically in a bush,” said Zane Spencer, who had been camping along Airport Way S and S Snoqualmie St in Seattle. “I had a little shack I built along the side the freeway and I was part of one of the sweeps.”

Outreach workers with CoLEAD found Spencer on property owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Once they got Spencer into housing, they offered him a chance to enroll in an innovative job skills course funded by WSDOT that would prepare him for a career in the construction industry.

“Our goal is to get people into the construction trades,” said WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar, who also attended the graduation ceremony. “We need people working on our transportation projects.”

To run the program, WSDOT collaborated with outreach workers from CoLEAD/PDA, job trainers with ANEW, and staff at a homelessness response organization called i2-strategies.

The students took part in a four-week course that taught them all they needed to earn an apprenticeship. They received classroom and hands-on instruction to earn certificates in safety training, traffic control flagging, operating forklifts, and other construction-oriented skills.

Aside from Snyder and Spencer, the first graduating class included Sara Esque, Jaimo Godoy, Wences Guerrero, Andrea Rojas, and Jomo Trice.

“It taught me more about myself, not just teaching me job skills but teaching me life skills,” Trice said.

The program also emphasized the importance of being punctual and accountable to be part of a team—including that drug and alcohol abuse don’t fit into that future.

“If you plan to go anywhere afterward you’ve got to be clean because you’re not going to get accepted into anything if you’re not,” Spencer said.

Millar said the people living along the sides of the roads are our brothers and sisters, parents and children, and need to be treated as such.

“I don’t want to move them along. I want to bring them back into the community. that’s the key to ending homelessness,” Millar said.

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