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Jobs Center Opens for Business at St. Elizabeths

Denise Rolark-Barnes | 2/3/2010, 12:46 p.m.

Laborers Needed to Begin Major Construction Project

Residents in Ward 8 know the €feds€ are coming. News quickly spread throughout the community that the Department of Homeland Security is preparing to renovate the former Saint Elizabeth€s Hospital and build its new headquarters on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Southeast. Hopes remain high that government officials will fulfill their promise that the $3.4 billion construction project will create jobs for residents in the community.

Since December, a large sign posted outside of the St. Elizabeth€s West Campus wall announced the Feb.1 opening of the Opportunities Center, a trailer located on the site where residents can learn about jobs and business opportunities.

€The February 1 opening will guarantee that D.C. residents know in time what jobs, pre-apprentice and apprenticeship openings and what other opportunities are available, and have a fair chance to compete and to get training,€ Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said during a press conference on-site in December.

€Enthusiasm already is high in the community about the long-term benefits of this federal signature headquarters in Ward 8,€ she said.

By 8 a. m., on opening day, once the massive black wrought-iron security gates were opened, dozens of job seekers who had trudged through the snow, lined-up to apply for jobs. And, in less than two hours, more than 200 applications had been turned in for countless laborer positions.
They came in shirts and ties, others sported jeans and boots, but they all showed up with resumes in-hand and high hopes that the center would provide them an opportunity to get back to work. The District€s unemployment rate has increased from 10 percent to 12.1 percent. In Ward 8 alone, unemployment is nearly 25 percent.

That€s why Southeast residents did not tarry.

Dave Northington showed up with his two-year-old daughter Zuri in tow. He€s gotten work for short periods of time through the labor unions, €but things have been kind of rough,€ the Southeast resident said.
€I hear they are looking for laborers, so that€s the kind of job I€m looking for right now,€ Northington said. The hustle and bustle didn€t faze Zuri; she munched on a small bag of Cheerios, while her dad completed the one page application.

The new DHS headquarters, the largest federal construction project underway in the country, is expected to create 38,000 jobs over the next decade, Norton said. When completed, the three-building headquarters compound will house 14,000 federal employees located in the first federal center built east of the Anacostia River.

Norton chairs the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, which has jurisdiction over the General Services Administration (GSA). Norton along with the agency that will supervise construction, have insisted that the DHS headquarters include €genuine€ live opportunities for District residents to compete for jobs, apprenticeships and small business contracts.

Area residents fill out applications for laborer jobs to begin excavation for the new headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security on the west campus of St. Elizabeths in Southeast.Photo by Victor Holt
Norton said that the GSA has been conducting workshops to help small businesses, including minority-owned and women-owned businesses, obtain 8-A certification applications to qualify for federal contracts. The center will also provide training by contractors hiring work crews for the DHS headquarters site, and GSA staff will help residents identify and apply for job opportunities. Clark Design-Build, LLC, the construction contractor for the DHS headquarters, and its subcontractors will do hiring.
Bonnie Echoles, of GSA, said interest from the community for the upcoming project has been overwhelming.

€We know that this is such a grand scale opportunity that the impact we have will reach far beyond these walls into the community. We want to reach out into the community, prepare them and encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities it brings€ Echols said.

The center will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Excavation will begin as early as this week, and Echols believes many applicants will be on the job soon. She understands that Clark has hired a small business firm and that laborers will be hired beginning the week of Feb. 1.

She also called this a €grand opportunity€ for previously incarcerated persons and homeless men and women to get back into the workforce. No group of individuals will be overlooked for opportunities, she said.

Larry Galmer, of Southeast, arrived at the center early, only to discover a long line had already formed. The former laborer said that he€s been out of work for almost two years and looks forward to an opportunity to return to work.

€I feel like I€m pretty confident, but you know how things can go. They say they have to hire people from the neighborhood, so I can only hope for the best,€ Galmer said.
Galmer said that he waited in line for almost 30 minutes before he decided to run back home and get a copy of his resume.

€When I got back, the line was gone. They€re moving pretty fast.€