Between my shift at the Day Center and attending a trial (for background research on the prosecution of child abuse cases), I stopped for lunch at a Main Street Pizzeria. Grand Junction's Main Street is being reconstructed, a few blocks at a time, so the businesses in those closed off blocks must rely more than normal on pedestrian traffic for a few months.
[The redo is an update of a pedestrian-oriented, serpentine mall lined with trees, planters and sculptures that was originally built in 1962 — six years before work began on Minneapolis's supposedly groundbreaking Nicollet Mall.]
As I walked down the street, I noticed virtually the entire workforce doing concrete finishing work and other construction was Hispanic. Inside the pizza joint, which was doing a good business, I came across a newspaper with this story describing the challenges of local orchards finding good local labor. This, in a town with unemployment hovering around 10 percent.
More than 300 local job-seekers have trooped into Talbott Farms' office this year to inquire about jobs in the orchards and vineyards.
Still, out in the fields, most of the workers doing the early thinning and spraying have come here on temporary guest-worker visas from Mexico.
It is not that Talbott and other growers don't want to hire fellow Americans hurting from extended unemployment. But many of those job-seekers aren't willing to tackle the tough, low-wage, long-hour farm labor.
Coincidentally, I had spoken with a number of men at the Day Center about their efforts to find work.
One man has been doggedly pursuing a dish washing job at local pub. Nearly a month after his first contact with them, he headed out today for an interview and was optimistic about landing something.
"I always want to work," he told me, "but I haven't had a job since November. It's been really tough."
Another man, who showed up here last week from Moab, now has his feet under him and has lost that dazed look he had when he arrived at the Day Center. One of the regulars escorted him around town and showed him where he could get assistance, a daily meal, a bus pass and a bed at a shelter.
He, too, wants work. He has been to the Workforce Center, which told him about a meat cutting job. "I have experience — you need it to cut meat — but it only pays $7.50 an hour," he said. "A skilled job like that should pay at least $12."
This man likes it here, better than Moab, where there's no shelter that accepts homeless men and the only soup kitchen serves leftovers from the school lunch program. He has some serious psychological effects from his alcoholism, bad enough that he has stopped drinking for eight months and takes antabuse and other medications. He seems determined to be productive, but he will struggle for the rest of his life.
"Are you taking your medications?" is a serious question I hear all the time here.
The third man talked to me about his plans to leave town.
His theory, the opposite of the other man's, is that smaller communities are more receptive to homeless people who want to work. Because there's no safety net in those towns, there's no identifiable homeless population, so he can look for employment without being branded as "one of those."
He is intelligent and very presentable. He keeps himself busy here playing guitar or reading, and at the end of the day he helped with the clean up. But like the other two men, he exhibits the stream-of-consciousness talk that signals other issues at work.
I like all three of these guys and wish them luck. But I also see how Hispanic laborers can come to town and "take jobs away from the locals."
Language and cultural barriers are a piece of cake compared to what some of these guys carry.