OLYMPIA - Despite a last-minute cut in federal funding, an annual job fair that also caters to homeless veterans went ahead as planned Friday, serving more than 200 people before the day was done.
Now in its fifth year, the event at the National Guard Armory in Olympia is called a “stand down,” a chance for homeless veterans, veterans and other job seekers to take part in a job fair.
About 50 homeless veterans participated, getting a hot meal, a shower, a haircut and supplies before the day turned into a job fair for them and all job seekers.
Events such as Friday’s stand down help to “eliminate barriers” that veterans encounter, including homelessness, addictions, family problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, organizer John Moysiuk said. Moysiuk works with veterans at Thurston County WorkSource and has been involved with the stand down for five years.
With a week to ago, however, the event almost didn’t take place because $7,000 in federal funding didn’t come through, he said. Organizers turned to other groups for assistance, including the state Department of Veterans Affairs, which helped fund the stand down.
“The WDVA figured out a way to make it happen,” said Travis Sayers, a homeless-veteran reintegration project coordinator.
The other large barrier facing all job seekers is the slower economy, and even those with undergraduate degrees or advanced degrees are unable to find work in this economy, Moysiuk said.
Employers in attendance included staffing companies, the Washington State Patrol, Affiliated Computer Services and state agencies.
Veteran Bobby Elder, 47, of Lacey, who is not homeless, lost his job in September after working for a Tacoma manufacturer for 12 years. Prior to that, he spent 15 years in the Army, twice stationed at Fort Lewis.
“The only two jobs I’ve had since high school,” said Elder, who eventually made $18 an hour at his previous job. He’d like to stay in the same field but acknowledged that the job search so far has been frustrating.
“There’s not much out there,” he said.
Elder receives jobless benefits and disability benefits after shattering his ankle during a training exercise in the Army. He was rappelling from a helicopter on a rope when the rookie pilot suddenly ascended, swinging Elder and others into a tree.
He was able to continue his career in the military, Elder said.
Steven George, 40, of Lacey, who also is not homeless, spent six years in the Army. He worked as a military contractor in Kuwait, earning enough money to buy a home in Lacey when he returned. He then went into business for himself, trading stocks at home, but the slower economy finally spurred him to look for another job.
George said he has encountered too many employers that offer mediocre pay, and he was disappointed in Friday’s job fair. George was one of the few to wear a coat and tie and was surprised to see he was better dressed than many of the employer representatives at the job fair. Still, he has limited his job search to Thurston County because of the county’s relatively low jobless rate of 7 percent compared with some other counties, George said.
Nationally, the unemployment picture darkened a bit in November, rising to a jobless rate of 9.8 percent after three straight months at 9.6 percent, according to the Labor Department. There were 15.1 million unemployed last month and 27 million “underemployed” workers, Labor Department data show.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.