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Lake Worth opens county's third day-labor center

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, November 10, 2008

LAKE WORTH — Volunteers unlocked the doors at the city's shuffleboard building at 6 a.m. Monday to begin the first full day of operation for the Lake Worth Resource Center, Palm Beach County's third day-labor center.

Workers stood in line as volunteer Radym Davis questioned them in Spanish and entered their names, job skills and other information into a computer.

Volunteers Ozzie and Susan Ona described the center's functions in Spanish to a group of about 30 workers and helped them fill out paperwork and get started using the center's computers.

City commissioners in September approved the $1-a-year lease city's shuffleboard building at 1121 Lucerne Ave. to The Mentoring Center to run the day-labor center in hopes of getting laborers off the streets and giving them training that could lead to jobs.

The day-labor center is similar to El Sol in Jupiter and Buena Fe in Loxahatchee Groves. Center workers do not ask workers their legal status.

A non-solicitation ordinance passed by Lake Worth commissioners last year makes it illegal for employers to pick up workers from the street along Lake and Lucerne avenues.

But old habits die hard. About 10 workers stood on the sidewalk outside the shuffleboard building Monday morning. When a white van stopped along the curb, laborers dressed in jeans, work boots and caps surrounded the van. One man climbed into the passenger seat, and the van sped away.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office will inform employers about the resource center and encourage them to come in and register instead of writing citations for violating the ordinance, at least until the labor center becomes well known.

"Our intent is to educate those who'd otherwise be coming here looking for day laborers," Lt. Chris Keane said. "There's going to be a learning curve."

About 10 employers have registered at the center so far.

Many of the services offered at the resource center, including AIDS prevention, family counseling and wage-theft recovery training, are geared to foreign workers. A big hit with workers on Monday morning: Free Starbucks coffee.

Although most of the workers are from Guatemala and Mexico, not everyone looking for work Monday was from another country.

Construction worker Billy Kyttle, 52, registered in the jobs data base and signed up to take Spanish classes.

"I'm almost homeless," said Kyttle, who said he is two months behind on his rent and has no power but still has a roof over his head. "I've got to try something else because everything else I'm trying to get a job is not working."

Robert Rodriguez, carrying a backpack holding boots, safety glasses and a hard hat, said he hoped that employers would come into the center to look for help.

"I want everyone to know this is not just a place to hang out," Rodriguez said. "We need work."