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Cable Helps Homeless Get a Line on the Jobs

Richard Reese looked nervous in his television debut.

Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, he told of how he would like to land a job as an activities director for a recreation program. But, he conceded when asked, he would take anything that c1634559264short-term construction work, whatever.

Reese’s 5-minute appearance came at the end of an episode of “Holiday Magic,” a weekly show that has been airing since Nov. 2 on five cable systems covering Newport Beach, Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, Westminster, Irvine, Costa Mesa and the Saddleback Valley. While the bulk of the show focuses on shopping and entertainment in Orange County, host and producer James Polakof has closed each program by profiling a homeless person in search of work.

“What we’re trying to do is cast off the stereotype that people who are homeless don’t want to work,” explained Polakof, who heads Santa Ana-based Pola Productions Inc. “We feel that an affluent area like Orange County will rally around something like this.”

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Polakof lined up the eight people he featured in “Holiday Magic” with the help of Mary McAnena, whose efforts to feed and shelter the homeless who congregate in Hart Park in Orange have made her something of a local legend.

McAnena spends most of her own Social Security and pension checks to bring hot meals, clothing, bedding and toiletries to Hart Park 5 days a week. With the help of a revolving corps of volunteers, she serves as many as 100 people a day.

On Thursday, McAnena and her helpers put out a spread that included vegetable beef soup, meat loaf, pasta in meat sauce, salad, fruit and dessert. The feisty 85-year-old Orange resident offered her views on the homeless problem, in a vestigial Irish lilt, while dishing out soup.

“Look at those babies,” she said, pointing to a table where a woman sat with three toddlers and an infant. “Nobody cares in this world. We live in a very materialistic society. . . . We’ve got people sleeping under trees in the richest country in the world.”

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Getting jobs is a particularly sticky problem for the homeless, McAnena said, because most employers will not consider hiring someone with no permanent address. In Orange County, where rents are among the highest in the country and rising, that leads to a vicious cycle: People with no jobs can’t afford a place to live, and people without a place to live can’t get a job.

Many of the people she helps are caught in that cycle, McAnena said. One of them is Paul, who declined to give his last name but said he is a Pennsylvania native who has been in Orange County about 4 weeks.

“The high cost of housing--that’s what I’m up against,” said Paul, who has worked in restaurants in the past. With first month’s rent and security and cleaning deposits, it can cost $1,500 to move into an Orange County apartment. “You can’t even find a fleabag hotel for $300 a month,” Paul said.

And in the search for employment, the stumbling block is at the top of every application: address and phone number. A job seeker lacking either is doomed, Paul said. “Are you going to hire him?” Paul asked. “Most employers won’t.”

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Many of the people McAnena helps possess job experience and a willingness to work, and need only to be given a chance, she said. “I have a lot of people who are qualified.” She often receives job tips and has succeeded in lining up jobs for some of the homeless in Hart Park, but to her recollection none of the tips so far have come as a direct result of the “Holiday Magic” show.

But while she worries that the basic problem--a lack of affordable housing for homeless families--remains, McAnena said media efforts such as Polakof’s can at least help change stereotypes about the homeless.

“The big question to be answered is, will Orange County respond?” Polakof said. “Like most cable things, it’s got to run for a while before people respond to it.”

Although the “Holiday Magic” series came to a close this week, Polakof said he hopes to expand his concept in the new year with a program that focuses entirely on homeless people seeking work in Orange County.

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“We want to make this into a full-time weekly half-hour show,” Polakof said. Although he is willing to donate his own time and the use of his Irvine studio, Polakof is trying to line up a corporate sponsor to help defray production and advertising costs.

“We have two things to prove,” Polakof said. “One, that people are willing to give the homeless people a chance to work, and two, that the homeless are willing to work. If we can prove two things, then we would consider that a good start.”


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