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Carl Newt III sits on the edge of a sidewalk tree planter, looking out at the Alice Griffith Opportunity Center, weighing his options. It's almost 10 a.m. on a Friday, and the Heritage summer camp kids are about to leave the center for a water park field trip. Newt, a 31-year-old father of one, is thinking of joining as a chaperone. It wouldn't pay anything, but he'd get free admission to the park.
Though Newt's legal address is just outside the development, Alice Griffith is the place he calls home. He grew up here and spends his days here, and from where he's sitting he can point out the apartments of his uncles, his cousins, and his father, who's lived here for decades. He was on the crew that retrofitted the Opportunity Center after it was shipped by barge to Alice Griffith last summer. Since then, he hasn't held a job.
"I need one. I need a job right now," Newt says. "I'm just sitting out here smoking."
His frustration is not unique. Among the families that Gavin Newsom's Communities of Opportunity program aims to help, only 40 percent of adults aged 16 or older are working. Job training and creation along with safety are the immediate goals of the initiative. Yet many residents who participated in the pilot jobs programs remain, like Newt, unemployed.
Last year, COO hired the nonprofit San Francisco Conservation Corps to work with young adults at Alice Griffith to replace and refurbish playground equipment and landscape the Opportunity Center. Only a handful of the participants completed the program and moved on to full-time work. Another nonprofit, Young Community Developers, trained a team of about 20 in a similar program last year. A few participants now work for the city or local businesses, but most are still at Alice Griffith, hoping for job offers that haven't arrived. Dwayne Jones encouraged one group of residents to found a landscaping business, but it was aborted after a few months of planning.
Residents, community organizations, and the mayor's office disagree not only on what caused these disappointing outcomes, but also on whether the outcomes can even be called "disappointing." What is clear is that in February 2005, when at a press conference Newsom promised a "job pipeline" giving Alice Griffith residents "access to over 800 jobs," he was making a pledge that's far from fulfilled.
After the initial jobs programs and the hoopla around the Opportunity Center ended last fall, frustration with the project mounted. Around Christmas, groups of angry young men from Alice Griffith began visiting the office of Ellouise Patton, executive director of Young Community Developers, asking, "Where's my job?" They didn't understand why, after going through the training and working under Jones for months, they were still unemployed.
"To me, it was all temporary, like throwing a dog a bone so he can be quiet. After beautifying, we throw you back to the corner you came from," says Lavelle Shaw, president of Alice Griffith's tenants association. "Bringing the Opportunity Center was a good thing, but you need to have programs to make it work."
Jones says he made it clear to residents that the programs were "transitional," and that not everyone who worked would be offered a city job after they were finished.
"It was a lot of false promises," says Shaw, who still counts himself among the supporters of COO. "[Newsom] came down here and promised jobs. When you tell people in public housing they're going to get jobs, they're going to expect to go to work."
The residents, too, bear some responsibility for the programs' mediocre outcomes. Many on the work crew trained by Young Community Developers failed marijuana tests, rendering them ineligible for city employment, according to Patton and some members of the crew. Others had not graduated from high school or had criminal records, but weren't willing to spend the time to get a diploma or go through transitional programs for ex-offenders, they say. Many lacked the intangible "soft skills" knowing how to write a resume and make follow-up phone calls to potential employers, understanding that you should come to work on time every day and shouldn't steal company property that seem basic to those who've been employed most of their adult lives. The city could have spent more time training residents in such soft skills (or explaining the consequences of testing positive for drugs). Yet even community nonprofit veterans expected an earnest effort from the participants in their programs, something they didn't always find at Alice Griffith.
"We're here to open opportunities," says Janet Gomes, the director of corps member services at San Francisco Conservation Corps who oversaw the Alice Griffith program. "If I put my hand out to you, I hope you shake my hand. Otherwise, I take it back."
It's a barrier that few government programs, no matter their ambition, can overcome. In order to succeed, COO would have to change an entire culture.
"If I've got a 21-year-old, and he's been in that culture for 21 years, it's going to take more than 12 months to change him," says Patton. "You can't just throw him in a job and say, 'You did great.' You've gotta be with him, you've gotta call him, almost babying him until you wean him, because he's so dependent on the social system."