Shelter, employment agency team up to aid homeless

Posted Oct. 18, 2012, at 9:56 a.m.

BANGOR — It’s been a natural pairing.

Staff members at the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter want their clients to enjoy the benefits of regular work. The Bangor branch of Labor Ready, a national temporary employment agency, has a steady need for employees.

So it’s only made sense for the two organizations to team up to help people get a fresh start on life.

As part of their plan of care, clients at the shelter who can work are expected to, or at least to seek employment. That could mean jobs found through Labor Ready or the Career Center or gaining education for adult literacy or a G.E.D. or through Penobscot Job Corps.

At any given time, 20 to 30 percent of the shelter’s clients are working or seeking jobs. During one recent week, 21 of 31 clients were employed or were looking for work, although that’s well above the norm.

Dennis Marble, executive director for the shelter, explained that clients’ working is beneficial in a number of ways: “It can improve their self-esteem, help them to save money for housing and to build a resume, and help them to avoid the depression that comes from sitting around with nothing to do.”

Leah Barteaux, manager of Labor Ready’s Bangor branch, couldn’t give an accurate estimate of how many shelter clients her company employs on an average day. “In this business, there is no average day,” she said.

“We don’t ask people where they come from,” she said. “Still [shelter clients] do make up a portion of our workforce.”

The Bangor branch of Labor Ready covers territory from Waterville to Fort Kent. Jobs include construction, flagging, manufacturing, and shipping and receiving, among others.

Shelter clients start at Labor Ready by taking an employability survey. Those that qualify undergo rigorous safety training before they are allowed on a job site, Barteaux explained. Labor Ready also supplies such safety items as steel-toed boots (on loan), gloves, and eye, ear, and face protection as needed.

Labor Ready officials are glad to offer opportunities for shelter clients.

“A lot of their people are trying to get back on their feet,” she said. “It’s great to be partnering with [the shelter] to help people there build their resumes.”

Despite the temporary nature of the work, Labor Ready’s customers will often request the same workers. “We try to keep the same workers on the same work assignment,” Barteaux said. “That reduces the amount of training that companies have to do. Some employees actually get hired on full time.”

Shelter staff do what they can to do help clients to work, whether that is supplying bag lunches, allowing those working night shifts to sleep during what is normal waking hours at the shelter, or chasing down an out-of-town birth certificate in order to gain a photo ID.

“When you have the expectation that those who can work will work, you do what you can to support them,” Marble said.

On Sept. 19, Labor Ready donated $500 to the shelter. “It’s part of our company’s Community Involvement Program, to encourage support for non-profit programs in the community that aid our employees,” Barteaux said. “And the work the shelter does directly impacts some of our employees.”

But such a donation isn’t how Labor Ready is helping shelter clients the most.

“It’s been wonderful,” Barteaux said. “When you give people a job, you empower them. They feel better about themselves.”

Companies seeking temporary employees, including shelter clients, can reach Labor Ready at (207) 262-6157 or (207) 659-3164.

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