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Couch's Corner: Giving the homeless jobs

Several times recently we’ve dedicated Couch’s Corner to programs designed to help the homeless and disadvantaged in our community. This week, I thought we’d provide an update on one of those programs, Laborers of the Harvest. In the past few months, LOTH has been awarded three grants and is implementing a first of its kind program that I hope we can replicate throughout the county.

The key grant, as far as I’m concerned, is the one that uses state job skills training funds as funneled through one of our county departments, Employer Training Resource, to put the homeless to work at the LOTH Food Pantry in Taft. Shari Rightmer, executive director of LOTH, has been working with Taft’s homeless population for years, but this is the first chance she’s had to actually pay her people. And the beauty of solving homelessness through paid work experience is that when our homeless population get paid, they can then find and pay for their own housing. We spend millions putting the homeless into housing; finding a way to put them to work gets them into housing at a fraction of the cost.

Rightmer’s program is special in that she builds her people up, which is critical for people whose past has some kind of trauma, sometimes self-inflicted. The pain inside often is what drives them to make unhealthy choices. Shari doesn’t just put people to work, she helps them work on what’s ailing them on the inside. To see some of her folks, some of whom have never been able to work, some of whom have lived under the bridge their whole lives, excited at the prospect that they are finally digging out of that place they’ve been trapped in and becoming contributing members of society, now that’s special.

But LOTH’s workers aren’t in some kind of make-work program. LOTH also received a grant from CalRecycle, California’s agency for waste and recycling, to help the county with its SB 1383 implementation. SB 1383 is that new law that says we must recycle 75% of our organic waste. It also says we must recover 20% of our discarded food.

LOTH has received funds to help build a regional food bank and fresh food giveaway, or “Open Harvest”, as she calls it. In Taft, Tuesdays and Thursdays, the hungry get free, fresh food that’s been gleaned from some area grocery stores and from a centralized food warehouse. Those homeless people who now will receive wages – they are the ones feeding the hungry. With those CalRecycle funds and some additional funding and coordination in our county, I’m hoping we can make LOTH’s Taft model a countywide program.

I’m in. I just dispatched my district director, Sal Moretti, to go work at ETR to help build this program again and again until we can get as much food as possible gleaned and as many training programs as possible developed throughout the county. Thank you to Teresa Hitchcock, ETR director, and to all of you at ETR who have been helping Shari build a program that I hope can be a solution to homelessness and food insecurity countywide.

On Monday, May 2, 15 homeless and otherwise disadvantaged workers will start getting paid job skills work experience. A few months later, another 15 will get the chance. And I hope, as additional funding comes in from the state, we find a way to keep on building this program in other communities and keep on getting these people paid.

If you have any questions about this or any District 4 matter, don’t hesitate to call 661-868-3680 or email us at [email protected]. Have a safe week.


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