Four women who were the support staff for the Bernal Dwellings Family Resource Center lost their jobs late last week on the final day of Jobs Now, a federally funded stimulus program that employed more than 4,000 low-income parents in San Francisco.
Companies and organizations in 37 states either lost their Jobs Now employees on September 29 or scrambled to find ways to retain them after the Senate killed a bill in June that would have extended the program.
Ginale Harris, who manages the Bernal Dwellings center, said losing her staff was like losing a limb.
“That’s what I feel like — like my arm’s been chopped off. They didn’t even bandage it. It’s just bleeding all over the place.”
The four women who worked their final day on Thursday provided Harris with critical support in areas such as job assistance, juvenile court advocacy and youth support services.
“This center keeps people from getting killed,” said Harris. “We were able to do an abundance of things here because of the dedicated staff I had. Now I don’t know what it’s going to look like. Realistically, I can’t do it myself.”
On Wednesdays, hundreds of people line up along the sidewalk to receive milk, eggs, bread and other items from the center’s food pantry. Without a staff, Harris will have to close the center’s doors early on Wednesdays so she can manage the pantry.
“I’ll need to scrape up volunteers to help me set up the food pantry,” she said. “One day at a time, that’s all I can do. Like I said, I’ve only got one arm now.”
“If the center is not here, a lot of things in this neighborhood will go backwards,” said Marica Gomez, who worked at the center for almost a year.
Before Jobs Now, Gomez was on welfare. She was hired as a janitor at the center last November and quickly took on more responsibility, working on an after-school snack program and summer lunch program for children in the community.
Gomez also learned computer skills she hopes will help her get another job.
“It’s a shame, after being put in a situation where we want to work, they are saying, ‘Go back to welfare, go get unemployment,’” said Gomez. “I can’t move up in the world if they are sending me back to where I came from.”
Sam Ruiz, executive director of Mission Neighborhood Centers, which operates the Bernal Dwellings Family Resource Center, hired 18 people through Jobs Now and said it was the best employment program he’s ever worked with.
Mission Neighborhood Centers secured funds from city and state agencies including the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families and the California Department of Education to keep just eight of those 18 employees after the program’s expiration. They only have enough funding to keep three Jobs Now participants for one month and five others until June, 2011. The eight who are keeping their jobs do not include any of the staff at the Bernal Dwellings center.
Ruiz said that deciding who to retain was not an easy task. They considered the skill sets of each employee and the demand of Mission Neighborhood Centers to keep those positions.
“Those with an employment extension of one month will hopefully continue beyond this period but only if we can identify and secure funding from other sources. We haven’t stopped looking,” said Ruiz.
He said that ending Jobs Now is a major contradiction.
“It’s sad that the politicians are always talking about the need for jobs and job creation, and here you have an excellent opportunity to live up to that, and they’re not willing to vote to extend the program.”
Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a statement on Thursday announcing that the city of San Francisco will provide a $2,500 subsidy for each new hire if a company or organization retains its current Jobs Now employees.
“What’s $2,500 going to do?” asked Harris. “That doesn’t even cover fringe benefits.”
Ruiz said the city’s plan is unrealistic for small and medium nonprofit organizations. “Perhaps for private entities or small businesses, but not for nonprofits. We’re barely scraping by every day.”
If you are interested in volunteer opportunities at the Bernal Dwellings Family Resource Center, please contact Ginale Harris at 415-643-5600.