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Gaining Wheels to Work

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In a survey given to 375 homeless people in 2009 and 2010, the Sacramento Housing Alliance found that 30 percent of the homeless population reported that transportation was the largest barrier to employment and a new program is planned to help.

Paratransit’s Mobility Training and Job Search Shuttle for the Homeless, commonly known as Wheels to Work, launched Wednesday morning at the Volunteers of America Family Center, 470 Bannon St.

Wheels to Work is a program dedicated to providing homeless and low-income earners with transportation and mobile job training by means of two large vans. The vans are designed to give homeless men and women access to job training and transportation that is essential in their quest for employment.

“We didn’t assume what homeless people wanted. We went out and asked them and then we acted. We were lucky enough to get the vans and then our partners helped make it happen,” said Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance.

Thunder Valley Casino Resort donated the two vans in 2009 to a sub-committee of Sacramento Steps Forward, an organization that works with homeless people in Sacramento. Paratransit, in collaboration with the Department of Human Assistance, repaired, redesigned, registered and insured both of the vans.

One of the vans seats 21 people and will function as transportation for homeless individuals to get to job interviews, training programs, homeless relief programs and various government buildings such as the Social Security office, Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Human Assistance.

The other Wheels to Work van is equipped with computers and staff who will teach men and women how to make resumes, which they can print on the printers inside the van. They will also offer interview preparation, peer mentoring, job opportunity information and job counseling.

The Wheels to Work vans are operated by seven formerly homeless graduates of Women’s Empowerment who have various disabilities. The California Department of Rehabilitation is funding and providing the necessary services for the women’s vocational training. The Department of Human Assistance has provided enough federal funding to ensure the buses will run for the next year.

Women’s Empowerment is an organization that educates and empowers homeless women. It provides skill development training that helps women regain a home and a stable lifestyle. The seven graduates that will be driving the vans have been trained and equipped to help mentor homeless people in their search for a job.

“A dream without a plan or action is just a wish. This project is a testament to people who make change and can make dreams come true,” said Lisa Culp, executive director of Women’s Empowerment. “Our hats are off to to the graduates who will drive these vans and carry this dream forward.”

Donna Blacksmith and Linda Strohmyer

“I have a story and can relate to these people,” said Linda Strohmyer, a driver for Wheels to Work. Strohmyer said she spent six years being homeless and addicted to everything from hoarding to cocaine, but through Women’s Empowerment she regained control of her life and got off the streets. She is still living in transitional housing but said she hopes, by means of working as a Wheels to Work driver, she can be in her own home by the start of 2012.

“I have come from nowhere and have gotten back on my feet because of these resources,” said Donna Blacksmith, another driver for Wheels to Work. “People just have to want it, and my job with Wheels to Work is to help them regain hope.”

She will be driving people who she used to live with on the streets. She said that she aims for these men and women to gain a sense of hope by seeing her with a job.

“I was offered a second chance, and now I want to extend the offer to them,” she said.

The vans started operating at the start of October and run from 8:20 a.m. – 4:57 p.m. Monday through Friday.

According to Linda Deavens, Paratransit’s CEO, Wheels to Work will start with one main route, but two more are in development. The current route runs the same each day and has scheduled stops at designated times.

Linda Deavens

The organizations behind Wheels to Work include: Paratransit inc., Women’s Empowerment, Sacramento Steps Forward, Sacramento Housing Alliance, Department of Human Assistance, California Department of Rehabilitation, and community volunteers.

To learn more about Wheels to Work visit the website here.

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