Poulsbo's Sound Works Job Center may lose city grant

POULSBO — Jeremy Deiter shows the signs of his distress at age 32.

“Do you see the hair?” the Poulsbo resident said Tuesday, half-joking. “It’s graying.”

He is sitting in Sound Works Job Center, a no-fee job placement center located in a tiny, one-room space. It doesn’t take much to fill the room, and on Tuesday afternoon, with about a half dozen people, it’s almost full.

“Most of them are hurting pretty bad,” said Bob Middlebrook, executive director. “People think low-income people are laying on the floor, drinking wine. Not true, they are like you and me.”

Middlebrook spends four days a week running the center, advising clients where to look for work with his a list of more than a 1,000 Kitsap jobs. As a retired civil service employee, he knows what is involved in landing government jobs, and also lends a hand with resumes and cover letters.

But he’s also wondering what might happen to the center. Already it is open just four days a week, closed Fridays, and the city of Poulsbo is recommending $5,300 grant not be renewed next year to help close anticipated budget gaps.

The proposal was recommended by the City Council’s Finance Committee last week. The cuts could come to a full council vote later this year, along with other possible program cuts.

The city lets the center stay in its building rent free, and Middlebrook said he’s willing to work for free if he has to, he said, but the center has to pay utilities and has other expenses.

“Now is not the time; I’m putting Poulsbo people to work,” Middlebrook has said.

The center also serves as a job resource for Bainbridge Island, said Lori Midthun, executive director of Bainbridge Youth Services.

The service helps Bainbridge youth find jobs on the island, but once they reach 20 years old, the service refers them to Sound Works.

Those referrals happen periodically, Midthun said.

“People never realized the resource is there and now desperately need it,” she said.

The clients took different paths to the center’s doorway, they have different backgrounds, different educations.

What they have in common is a desire and need to work.

Deiter’s obstacles are a criminal record and a suspended driver’s license. He said he’s motivated by the thought of his two kids to get a job that doesn’t require him to drive.

“I just need somebody to give me a chance,” he said.

For others, like Ed Forman of Poulsbo, 61 and laid off at the end of August from a bank job, it’s looking in a different field.

“I need some help figuring out what that will be,” Forman said. He has an MBA, plus more than two decades experience, but said he’s never seen the economy so bad. He’s afraid he’ll be forced to commute to Seattle, meaning depending on the ferry system and spending a chunk of his day in transit.

“It’s a grind, it’s no fun,” he said.

Steve Knowlton has tried other services, but said Sound Works is the only one that has shown results.

“I’ve never gotten the personal attention from other agencies,” Knowlton, 51, said of Middlebrook. “Plus he looks like Santa Claus.”

Middlebrook plays Santa during the Christmas season.

Knowlton moved back to Kitsap from the Chicago area to care for his elderly father who lives on the Port Gamble S’Klallam Reservation, leaving behind a good job working for a natural gas utility.

“It’s new to me, I’ve always had a job,” he said, noting that even with help from the tribe, it’s putting stress on his family.

He praised Middlebrook for interview coaching, including encouraging him to use note cards.

“This is the kind of stuff you don’t get from other agencies.”

Teresa Moore, 57, of Suquamish is in a similar situation. Laid off from a $68,000-a-year job at Boeing, she’s been telling employers she’s willing to work for $20,000 less, but the offers aren’t appearing.

She’s heard a similar story from other workers approaching retirement.

“We’re being forgotten,” she said.

Michael Erickson, 25, of Seabeck, is at the other end of the spectrum. A 2006 graduate from Washington State University with a degree in political science, Erickson was laid off from a law firm job in Seattle and after trying to make ends meet was forced to move back in with his parents.

“I’m not proud of it,” he said. “I get this incredible feeling of guilt, like I failed them.”

Councilman Ed Stern, chairman of the Finance Committee, said in light of an expected $200,000 general fund shortfall this year, and between $500,000 to $1 million deficit in next year’s budget, the city is looking at cuts.

Councilwoman Becky Erickson, who is running for mayor, supported the recommendation. Mayor Kathryn Quade, who does not vote on council matters, opposes the cuts.

“Especially during this time while people are struggling to find work,” Quade said.

Stern is quick to note he has had informal talks with a local tribe about contributing more to the center.

“It doesn’t mean it’s a done deal,” Stern said of the recommended cuts. “We are by no means abandoning this, nobody should confuse this with closure of abandonment.”

One reason for the recommending the funding be cut is to draw attention to the needs of the program.

“Half the battle is getting people’s attention,” Stern said.

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