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Tales from the Great Recession


JoblessHave no food, home or job? Join thousands of other Manatee County residents scrounging agencies, churches and back alleys.

"In the 44 years I have been with The Salvation Army, I have never gone through times like this," says Major Bob Pfeiffer. "This is a financial crisis that is going to get worse before it gets better." As the Salvation Army's demands increases, their resources decrease. Donations are down 25 percent, while requests are up 40 percent. "Unless a miracle happens we are going to have some real difficult times."

Someone who daily experiences miracles helping Bradenton's poor is Joanell Greubel, director of the Salvation Army's Family Lodge, a temporary home to families and single women. "Under a very structured four-month program, clients are taught self-sufficiency tools. A lot is required of them, but in return a lot can be gained from their experiences here," says Greubel. "From September to December in 2008 there were 385 family members seeking housing at the Family Lodge. "We were only able to help 55 people. That's when our tears fall."

The average age of homeless in Florida is nine years old. Homeless children in Manatee County are the most wrenching cases. Deb Bailey, a social worker for the county school board, says she's never seen the magnitude of such hopelessness, where parents can't provide for their children because they lack employment. "Just this year there are 1,778 homeless or at risk children in Manatee County," says Bailey. "It's very sad. It's kids, not just numbers. Their parents were hard working before they lost their jobs, but they can't find work. And it's getting worse, not better. I find it difficult to be optimistic."

When frustration erupts into violence it's the police who are called in to separate warring factions. "I have some wonderful, but overwhelmed deputies who have to deal with the effects of our recession," says Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube. "The increase in homicides is reflected by the increase in domestic related crimes of passion."

Hope Family Services strives to manage the anger of family members. Founded in 1979, Hope Family Services is Manatee County's only domestic Violence Safe shelter, where a threatened woman can find sanctuary from a hostile male, while learning how to cope in a perilous environment. "We have more people coming into our door and fewer resources," says Laurel Lynch, director of Hope Family Services. "People are living in a pressure cooker. Before, a husband pushed his wife around, now he pulls out a knife. I've been doing this type of work for more than 20 years, but I don't remember it being anything as bad as now."

For more than 25 years Connie Russell has been a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, trained to assist people with their problems. "The problems I see are exacerbated by the economy," Russell says. "Clients have less patience, more frustration and more anger. They're stressed out, suffer sleeplessness, have increased substance abuse and have relationship difficulties."

Manatee County's premier fund raising organization is United Way, and its president is Jerry Koontz. "These are the most challenging times we have seen. It's a double-edges sword, donations are down and needs are soaring, Koontz says. "There are a lot of sad stories out there. For the first time in more than 20 years we will not make our fund raising goal. Instead of obtaining $2.8 million as we had planned, we may get $2.6 million, and that $200,000 short fall means all 42 agencies that we help fund, are forced to do more with less."

In a recent survey of the nation's 900 nonprofit organizations, leaders reported only 12 percent of those groups will end up with a surplus at the end of their fiscal year. The study published in the New York Times said more than a third of the associations only had enough money for a month to cover needs.

The nation's plunging unemployment picked up speed in February when 651,000 jobs disappeared, raising the nation's unemployment to 8.1 percent, its highest level in a quarter century. Since the Great Recession started more than 4.4 million jobs have been lost, 2.6 million in just the last four months.

Manatee County's unemployment rate soared to a near-record high 11 percent in February, the highest since February 1983 when it was 10.4 percent. The February labor statistics reported there were 15,942 workers were without a job in Manatee County. For the state of Florida there were more than 874,000 jobless workers, raising Florida's unemployment rate to 9.4 percent, the highest in 16 years. Each day 250-telephone operators receive more than 150,000 calls from desperate people seeking assistance.

Bradenton's Job's Etc, an employment agency, has been deluged by desperate calls for help. "A year ago our offices in Bradenton, Sarasota and Venice saw a total of 900 clients a month," said Sally Hill, Spokesperson for Jobs Etc.of the Suncoast Workforce Board. "Now we are seeing more than 3,000 people a month looking for a job."

What's a jobless person to do?

"Get organized," advises Sally Hill. "Looking for a job is a full-time job."

Some tips she offered:

Compile an effective resume.

Be able to quickly and clearly explain in 15 seconds your background and what type of job you are seeking.

Use third party networking. When you meet someone who knows of a job, ask them if you can use them for reference.

"There are a lot of resources in our community to help you," says Hill. "Counselors at our offices can help you prepare your resume and interview techniques."


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