Thursday, October 01, 2009

Fort Worth Shuts Down Day Labor Center

Most people in the Fort probably didn’t even know there was a day labor center in town. If they did, they probably didn’t know it was just off I-30 at the end of the street where the church with that crazy slanted roof is. But to a lot of people over the last several years, it was an important place. For me, it was a last resort a couple of years after I arrived in Fort Worth from New York in 2002 and found myself out of work and unable to pay the mortgage on my little home, and barely able to feed my kids. I struggled with some freelance work through 2002 and 2003, sold my first story to the local alternative in early 2004, but was about to go under. I'd applied for regular jobs, spent weeks driving around applying, but who wants to train someone for a factory when you know they’re going back to journalism as soon as they can? So I wound up at the Day Labor Center in early 2004. It was run by a fellow named Warren, a good and fair man. The fellows and women would show up starting at about 6:30, waiting for the doors to open. You took a number and waited your turn for a contractor or someone who needed a few hands to mow some lawns to come in asking for help. Pay wasn’t great: Warren insisted that everyone get paid at least $7 an hour, and sometimes people offered $9 or $10.
I spent five weeks there and got out to work just three days. Some guys who were known to the contractors got out a lot more often. But not making much money didn’t really matter. What mattered about the place was that it gave me and a lot of other guys a place to be. It kept us from sitting at home or for the homeless, on the street all day. It allowed us to interact with humanity rather than stewing over being left behind by society.
It wasn’t much of a place: Couple of big rooms with cheap chairs; lousy coffee that cost a dime a cup; couple of newspapers and some magazines and books. Sometimes church groups came in and served free lunch–universally awful but still thoughtful.
The guys and women ranged from junkies to crazies to people hiding under the radar to avoid going to jail for non-payment of child support all the way to white collar people who simply lost their jobs and had nowhere else to turn. They were a good group, a good mix.
I wound up writing a story about the experience and that helped land me a job at the paper I now work for. Other guys wound up working regularly on construction crews that were booming then. Some guys were still there when I visited a few months ago, getting by day to day.
The city closed the center’s doors today because the budget couldn’t afford the couple of hundred grand it cost to run the place annually. That’s too bad. Every city needs a place of last resort for people willing to work but down on their luck. There’s talk of trying to find a new location for it. We’ll see.
In the meantime, there are a couple of hundred willing hands who won’t have a place to go grab a hot shower and lousy coffee and maybe claim a $60 payday so that they can put a chicken on the table for their kids. That’s sad. You would think every city would understand the value of a place like that.


Gritter said...

Thought provoking indeed. Is your original article about the center still available?

Peter Gorman said...

Hey, Gritter, the article is on my archives on the second page of the Fort Worth Weekly Cover Stories section; it's also on the page in the 2004 archives. The title in the paper was Sweat Inequity, if you look for it that way.
On the archive it's called Day Labor.
Peter G

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