'Hungry For Jobs' And 'Very Skilled': Homeless Boston Residents Seek Employment At Job Fair

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South Boston native Roberta Regan never could have predicted that at the age of 51 she'd find herself signing up for job training programs and applying for positions at stores and movie theaters.

Regan was a registered nurse, got a master's degree and kept moving up, until everything came crashing down.

"The past 19 years I was a nurse practitioner," Regan says. "I had surgery, was prescribed oxycodone and became addicted to that and alcohol. I got a DUI, after which the board of nursing put me on probation, and then I got another DUI, so I lost my nurse practitioner's license."

After the DUIs, she lost her driver's license and her home.

Regan, a grandmother of three, has been sober for five and a half months and is living in a sober house as part of the 14-week Moving Ahead program sponsored by St. Francis House. That's one of several social service organizations that have partnered with the city to form the Boston Employment Network, which sponsored a job fair Friday at the Marriott Copley Place for people who are homeless or have been homeless. It's part of Mayor Marty Walsh's action plan to end chronic homelessness in the city by 2018.

Walgreen's, Wegman's, Franklin Park Zoo and The Ritz-Carlton were among the 25 employers that advertised jobs and met with potential applicants at Friday's event. It's only the second time the nonprofit homeless service organizations and the city have sponsored such a job fair. The first was in October. Organizers say the coordinated effort helps them ask employers to consider people who are homeless for jobs.

Zach Smola, of Project Place in the South End, says the biggest barrier to employment for people who don't have a home is usually the story — the stereotype — of the homeless population.

"A lot of times I think there's an assumption that if someone is homeless, it's because they don't want employment or they're not willing to work. And I have seen consistently that that is rarely the case."

Zach Smola, of Project Place in the South End

"A lot of times I think there's an assumption that if someone is homeless, it's because they don't want employment or they're not willing to work," Smola says. "And I have seen consistently that that is rarely the case. I see people who are very hungry for jobs, who are very skilled."

But there are logistical challenges, such as lacking reliable transportation or nice clothes for interviews. The service providers in the Boston Employment Network help people with those, as well as job training and resume writing.

Anthony Soares says he's proof the programs work. He recently finished a 10-year federal prison term.

"I robbed a bank with a note," Soares says. "I used to hang with the wrong crowd. I used to get drunk, I used to drink."

Since his release in August and mandated time in a halfway house, Soares has been living in transitional housing through Haley House in Roxbury. He's been working as a baker at the organization's cafe, has been getting help from Project Place, and now has landed a full-time job. He starts as as a chocolate maker at Taza Chocolates in Somerville on Monday.

"I help out the homeless shelter, I help feed the homeless, and I work my butt off to stay out of trouble," Soares says. "And you have to, because jail is not what's happening. And I tell a lot of the young guys the same thing. Find a job. There's jobs available."

Regan, the former nurse practitioner, is a little nervous.

"I don't have any other skills ... it's all health care related." she says.

She has, however, published articles, taught classes and picked up a lot of computer skills through her 24-year career, she says.

Resume in hand, she hopes Friday's job fair is one of many steps toward leaving the sober house behind and starting over again.

This article was originally published on April 01, 2016.

This segment aired on April 1, 2016.

Lynn Jolicoeur Producer/Reporter
Lynn Jolicoeur is the field producer for WBUR's All Things Considered. She also reports for the station's various local news broadcasts.



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