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Job Center Pivots To Member Relief Services During Coronavirus

Patch logo Patch 2 days ago Mark Hand
a car parked on the side of a building: The Centreville Labor Resource Center, a program of the Centreville Immigration Forum, helps recent immigrants find jobs. © Courtesy of Terry Angelotti The Centreville Labor Resource Center, a program of the Centreville Immigration Forum, helps recent immigrants find jobs.

CENTREVILLE, VA — The restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus are wreaking havoc on workers in all business sectors, with many of them getting furloughed or let go. The crisis is hitting day laborers, many of whom are recent immigrants, particularly hard as they see demand for their services decreasing by the day.

The Centreville Labor Resource Center, a program of the Centreville Immigration Forum, serves as a safe place where recent immigrants can get matched up with homeowners who need odd jobs done around the house or contractors who need workers for one- or two-day jobs. But fewer employers are coming into the center seeking workers as they put off projects until the coronavirus, or COVID-19, crisis begins to subside.

Although the Labor Resource Center remains open, the organization is temporarily shifting some of its resources to helping residents in the community — whom the center calls its members — get food and health care services. Many members and their families are struggling to pay the rent and pay for food.

Founded in 2011, the Centreville Labor Resource Center, located in a Centreville shopping center near the corner of Centreville Road and Lee Highway, connects its members with homeowners and contractors who need help with landscaping, painting, moving and similar types of work. Most of the center's members are immigrants from Guatemalan who moved to the western Fairfax County because they had family or friends who already lived there.

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"Our whole philosophy is we try to find people jobs so they can provide for themselves," said Terry Angelotti, executive director of Centreville Immigration Forum, which oversees the Centreville Labor Resource Center.

But with the spread of the coronavirus, fewer homeowners and small contractors are hiring people through the labor center. Springtime is typically when requests for workers begin to increase, with employers looking for help on landscaping jobs and other types of work. But the number of jobs has dropped off considerably, according to Angelotti.

Last Thursday, only three workers were hired at the labor center. The next day, the center wasn't able to find any jobs for workers. And on Saturday, five members were able to find jobs. For all of last week, 23 people were hired through the Labor Resource Center compared to 43 people who were hired during the same week in 2019, Angelotti told Patch.

a group of people sitting in a room: Members of the Centreville Labor Resource Center paint the sign used on the front of the center. (Courtesy of Terry Angelotti) © Provided by Patch Members of the Centreville Labor Resource Center paint the sign used on the front of the center. (Courtesy of Terry Angelotti)

Prior to the opening of the center in 2011, large numbers of workers would wait in front of the Centreville Public Library, located down the street from the center, hoping for contractors to drop by and hire them for a one-day or two-day jobs. The library is still used as a gathering place for workers to connect with contractors. But more residents are using the Centreville Labor Resource Center because it's safer and its formal structure makes it harder for employers to renege on their signed agreements to pay workers.

Local residents who use the Labor Resource Center typically find most of their work in the warmer months before jobs begin to dry up in the winter. If the coronavirus crisis had hit in the autumn, the impact on the Labor Resource Center's members would not have been as drastic, Angelotti said.

"Our members make most of their money in the spring, summer and early fall and then live off those wages in the winter," Angelotti said. "But now their resources are depleted. They budgeted to make it to spring when the jobs would pick up. This is the worst time it could have happened, quite honestly.”

With fewer employers using the Labor Resource Center, Angelotti said her group is now is looking at how it can help connect its member with food supplies and health care.

The Centreville Immigration Forum partners with Western Fairfax Christian Ministries in Chantilly and is hoping to deepen its relationship with the group. Last week, Western Fairfax Christian Ministries prepared 22 bags of emergency food and handed them out to members at the labor center.

With its Labor Resource Center less busy, Angelotti is trying to determine how the center could be used during the crisis. She said the center is considering becoming a distribution spot for food or delivering food to its members' homes.

Along with helping local residents find jobs, the center has an "accompaniment program" where volunteers agree to drive the center's members to medical appoitments, legal appointments, or getting their children registered for school.

Angelotti said the center was forced to suspend the accompaniment program because most of the volunteers are retired people who are sheltering at home to avoid coming into contact with the coronavirus.

Some of the center's volunteers are so dedicated to the work that they do not seem to be as nervous about the coronavirus as they should be, Angelotti said. For some of the elderly volunteers, she has instructed them to stay at home. Some can do their work remotely on a computer, she said.

The Centreville Immigration Forum has only four paid employees, including Angelotti. The group does have an open position for a community organizer for which it is accepting applications and resumes. And by the end of the year, the group wants to hire a second community organizer who would focus on reaching out to the growing number of recent immigrants who are women and are in need of day jobs.

The Centreville Immigration Forum holds drop-in English classes and training classes where members can learn skills such as how to lay tile as well as painting and lanscaping.

Angelotti said the Centreville Immigration Forum has had a good relationship with Fairfax County since it started almost a decade ago. The forum relies almost exclusively on private donations, many of which are from churches in the area. However, over the past two years, the group has received funding from Fairfax County.

The group also has a positive relationship with the Fairfax County Police Department, particularly the Sully district police station near where the labor center is. The Fairfax County police have made it clear that they do not view immigration enforcement as part of their job, Angelotti said.

"I would say the police are the ones who value us the most because it gives them a way to build relationships with the immigrant, low-income community," she said.

Police officials will attend Centreville Immigration Forum fundraising events such as its annual Fourth of July picnics and Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. "They are very supportive of what we do," she said.

The Fairfax County Police Department has many officers who also speak Spanish. But many immigrants in the area are indigenous people from Guatemala who don't know Spanish and instead speak a Mayan language.

"That was really helpful for the police to learn that some of these Guatemalans may not even speak Spanish," Angelotti said.

Aside from helping its members find jobs and food, the Centreville Immigration Forum also is working on ensuring the members are getting proper health care because most of them don’t have health insuranace.

"We’re worred about what’s going to happen to the worker community if someone gets sick. They live in close quarters. We’re afraid the coronavirus could spread quickly," she said.

Because they must stay at home, the group's older volunteers can no longer drive members to HealthWorks facilites in Herndon or Reston where free comprehensive health care is provided.

The coronavirus crisis has created new dilemmas for Angelotti and her group's members. "How are they going to get to medical care? What kind of medical care that’s within walking distance?" Angelotti asked, although she sounded confident she would find a way.

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