MILWAUKEE — A mother of two re-entering the workforce was among the job seekers taking advantage of a new state effort to bring employment and social services to Milwaukee neighborhoods struggling with poverty and other social issues, including an area that recently erupted in violence.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development set up its first “mobile response” unit Tuesday at an employment center near the Sherman Park neighborhood on the north side, where the fatal shooting of a black man by a black police officer set off two nights of violence and looting last month.
Bringing mobile job and referral services information to the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods is part of a $4.5 million state plan to improve employment and revitalize residential property — an initiative developed after violence broke out in the Sherman Park area following the Aug. 13 police shooting death of 23-year-old Sylville Smith. Urban community leaders said the burning of businesses, looting and random gunfire that came after Smith died was partly the result of frustration and hopelessness in poor neighborhoods.
Latasha Duffy, 35, completed her resume, received information about a state food program and took a look at a couple of job opportunities online during the three hours she spent at the HIRE Center, where the state set up its first “Job Center Access Point.”
Duffy, the mother of two boys, ages 10 and 17, said she recently split from her husband and was trying to re-establish herself in the workforce.
“It’s hard to get in that door especially when you were dependent on a husband for the last 10 years,” she said. With an associate degree in accounting and business management, Duffy plans to work and return to school to become an attorney.
In the weeks ahead, the state Department of Workforce Development plans to take its traveling staff and equipment to other locations in Milwaukee, including a nearby Sherman Park church, Parklawn Assembly of God.
State employment officials have used targeted radio and newspaper ads, as well as social media, to draw the unemployed or underemployed to the first mobile effort. About a dozen job seekers trickled into the center during its first hours of operation.
Hercules Dunn, 55, was at the HIRE Center to file an unemployment claim and said he was grateful he stumbled upon the state’s new labor initiative because he had not heard about it.
“I think I’m going to walk out with a job today,” Dunn said, smiling. “I’m going to stay here all night if I have to.”
Dunn lost his part-time job with a personal care agency several weeks ago and is eager to land another position.
“Whatever they have, I’ll go for it,” he said. “I’m willing to take a pay cut or low pay as long as there’s money coming in. It don’t have to be much.”
State workforce development employees gathered information about job seekers, assessed their needs, such as child care or getting a driver’s license, and inquired about their areas of employment interest. After the assessment, participants meet with service providers for such areas as transportation, education, and training and literacy.
“Part of the overall vision is that this population may not be attached to the workforce, so that’s why we brought everyone together,” said Georgia Maxwell, Department of Workforce Development deputy secretary.