Class helps homeless find traffic flagging jobs

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) Jay Sisson hasn't complained about living in his vehicle for the past few years, he said, while he has scratched out a living as a trucker.

But the 57-year-old can't keep it up, he said.

"It's brutal," the Vietnam veteran confessed, adding that it isn't a significant step up from the Coeur d'Alene shelter he was in prior. "My whole objective is to get my feet on the ground and maybe finally establish some kind of residence, and some kind of a normal life."

So Sisson gladly grabbed himself a new opportunity on Wednesday: Becoming a certified traffic flagger.

Sisson was one of eight homeless individuals, many of them veterans, who were provided free spots at a daylong flagging certification class in Coeur d'Alene, organized through the collaboration of benevolent flaggers, St. Vincent de Paul and a willing instructor.

The goal was to provide a new employment channel for homeless individuals motivated to make it again, the organizers said.

And Sisson is motivated, he said emphatically.

"My motto is if I can't find a job, I'll make one," Sisson said.

Instrumental in providing the free certification were Mary and John Murdock, Hayden residents and union flaggers. After hearing that SVDP was hoping to find a flagging class for homeless clients, the couple dialed up their friend and flagging instructor Kathy Cardwell.

Together, they arranged a private class with several spaces free to homeless individuals.

Such classes usually cost $60 per person, John said.

"These guys are vets. I'm a veteran, and there's nothing like coming back to your own nation and not being able to take care of yourself," said John, who was stationed in the Persian Gulf while serving in the Navy from '84 to '90. "I can remember being out of work and being able to go to Labor Ready and get work every day. These guys go now, and they can't get work."

Mary, still a flagger at 60, said that companies keep a list of flaggers to call for construction projects. No interview is needed, she said, and flaggers can earn up to $20 an hour.

Ideal if someone is trying to get back on their feet, she pointed out.

"This gives them credentials," Mary said, adding that TraffiCorp has already agreed to add these folks to the list. "It's the most rewarding feeling."

Cathleen Gaston, living in an SVDP women's shelter in Coeur d'Alene, jumped on the opportunity to get certification.

The 54-year-old hopes it will give her a chance to work full time and support herself, she said, after she has been only been able to find part-time work.

"Really bad decisions," the Air Force veteran admitted of how she became homeless. "Being on employment, and then running out."

Chris Green, SVDP emergency shelter case manager, picked the several men and women from Coeur d'Alene shelters who rode in the nonprofit's van to the class at Sun Aire Estates.

This certification could make all the difference for some of them, Green said.

"The single biggest hurdle for these guys is work," Green said, noting that most homeless have temporarily fallen on hard times and are striving to recover. "Our shelter is a 90-day emergency shelter. The hardest thing, especially in this economic crisis, is to get work for them."

He hopes to organize similar classes down the road, he added.

"We need more Johns and Marys," he said.

Cardwell, who teaches flagging at North Idaho College and also conducts private classes, said it was an easy choice to donate spaces on Wednesday.

"It's a good opportunity to help someone out," Cardwell said as her students wrapped up their certification exams. "As a community, we have to help each other."

At the end of the several hour class, the group of SVDP students posed for a camera shot together, each holding their new certification cards.

Jeremy Barrington, a 21-year-old still adapting to homelessness, said the card will hopefully land him a job after several months of searching.

It all happened so quickly, he added. College didn't work out, then he couldn't find work, and "just like, that I was homeless," he said.

This card is a chance to start over, he said.

"It's an opportunity to get out and work," Barrington said. "To get out in the community and be a part of it again."


Information from: Coeur d'Alene Press