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Hiring Center Only Comes Up Empty-Handed : Day laborers: Although the facility is attracting about 125 men daily, administrators say only about 16 are finding work at odd jobs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Men seeking work crowd Los Angeles’ first official hiring center for day laborers in the San Fernando Valley, which opened last month on a dusty lot in North Hollywood, but administrators say the program is failing because employers aren’t showing up.

An average of about 125 men show up each day at the center on Sherman Way between Radford and Hinds avenues, said Bill Molina, a management analyst for the city Community Development Department, which runs the center. Of those, however, only about 16 find work at odd jobs, he said.

“It’s not working very well,” site coordinator Enrique Velasquez said.

The center, which costs the city about $3,500 a month to operate, was opened July 10 to replace the street corners and parking lots on Lankershim Boulevard between Strathern and Saticoy streets, where many men waited daily for jobs.

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But because the odds of finding work at the center have not been much better than on the street, many men have returned to their former posts. And employers continue to hire workers from informal gathering points, creating a cycle that dilutes the center’s effectiveness, its operators said.

A similar facility that opened last fall in Harbor City has been more successful, with about 28 men a day finding work, Molina said.

Other informal hiring sites around the Valley also continue to attract men looking for work, to the dismay of shopkeepers who have complained of workers leaving trash and scaring away customers as they wait.

In a move to encourage both workers and employers to use the new facility, the City Council on Tuesday approved $6,000 in overtime pay for police to patrol on foot the nearby Lankershim Boulevard areas where workers congregate.

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Police Lt. Stuart Maislin of the North Hollywood

Division said the money is sufficient to provide one officer four hours a day for 40 days. Maislin said the officer will encourage workers and potential employers to use the center.

The foot-patrol officer will provide information to day laborers and potential employers about the hiring center, he said. “The whole key is to be educational,” rather than relying on the officer’s enforcement power, Maislin said.

Nevertheless, the officer will be able to enforce traffic laws if necessary and thus “provide a visual presence to deter people from stopping to hire the day laborers,” he said.

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The effort will concentrate on sending potential employers to the center, Maislin said. “The key is the employers. If the employers go there, the workers will go there.”

Hundreds of flyers have been posted and contractors in the San Fernando Valley have been mailed information about the center, Molina said.

But so far, such efforts have done little good. One day this week, for example, only 20 men had found work by noon out of the 126 registered at the center.

“What about the rest?” Velasquez asked.

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Many relaxed under canopies, reading and talking. At one table, Oscar Garcia, Alfredo Vasquez and Antonio Hernandez played checkers with pebbles. The three said they preferred waiting at the center because it was more pleasant than being on the street.

Coffee and sweet rolls are provided free every morning and lunch is served Wednesdays and Fridays. The facility also provides toilets and legal advice for workers who might have been cheated out of wages.

“It’s better to be here because we’re all together,” said Garcia, 19, who has been hired for general labor twice in the past month.

Written in ink on the palm of his hand was his raffle number--652. Workers at the center enter a raffle each morning. Each man is assigned a number and when an employer comes looking for workers, they are selected in a random drawing. Molina said the system ensures fairness and keeps the men orderly.

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