February 4, 2012 in City

Friends in need: Mission helps unemployed reacquire interview skills – and jobs

By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Sheri Riehl, right, talks about her job training school with Elisha McMurtrey at a career fair Friday at the Union Gospel Mission. Riehl works for Health Care Training Center, a private school that trains nursing assistants.
(Full-size photo)

Marty Hall believes in second chances.

Hall said he worked in the hospitality business for 25 years before he suffered verbal abuse and developed a drinking problem. He lost two jobs, then his home. Practically penniless and with nowhere to go, he moved from Illinois to Spokane and sought help at the Union Gospel Mission.

Hall owns up to mistakes he made, but he’s now fighting to get his life back on track and was one of about 80 people from the mission who attended a career fair there Friday.

“Right now, I’m just trying to get back in my business,” said Hall, who said he has been sober since July 2010 and recently graduated from the recovery program at Union Gospel Mission.

But that might be tough.

The longer a person is unemployed, the more difficult it can be to find their way back into the workforce, said Tiffany Riddle, director of vocational advancement at the mission. A person who has been without work for six months or more has a 1-in-10 chance of landing a job. And work – finding and keeping a job – is a critical component in breaking the cycle of homelessness, she said.

“A large population are actually professional people that found themselves out of work long enough they couldn’t pay their rent and they don’t have a family to help support them through a tough time,” Riddle said. “These men and women have been beaten down.”

Those who attended Friday’s career fair were able to network and get a feel for what they’d like to do and how to get there. Representatives from the United States Army, Community Colleges of Spokane, Washington Trust Bank, the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers and others were at the career fair to talk with job seekers and offer advice.

The goal, Riddle said, was “to find out what their dreams are and what they’re good at.”

They practiced the little things that can make a big difference when trying to get a gig: a solid handshake, eye contact, confidence and a put-together appearance.

“I’ve developed excellent references here,” said Hall, who added they are required to attend classes five nights a week, go to church, and work – without pay – for 20 hours a week at a local business to keep their resumes current and develop job skills.

Despite all the work he’s done to better himself, he said, there is a stigma attached to homelessness that may put potential employers off.

“I would like to think I’m not indicative of what a homeless person would look like,” said Hall, who attended the career fair dressed in black slacks, dress shoes and a blue button-up shirt.

Hall, like many others at the fair, hopes some employer will be able to look beyond his checkered past and give him another chance.

“I believe I can, but it’s one step at a time,” he said. “You just have to get out there and make it happen.”

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