Project Hope and Harmony Moves Forward

Project Hope and Harmony Moves Forward

Day laborers attend meeting to help in search for formal day labor site.

For the first time since its inception in September, Project Hope and Harmony — a community-run group geared toward finding a permanent day labor site — heard directly from day laborers.

"We are a little worried because [7-Eleven] is a place where we feel comfortable and trust and we get together there so we can find work," said Jose Sergio Sorto Hernandez on behalf of the day laborers who was being translated by Candace Saint, senior clinician and multicultural specialist for the Northwest Center for Community Mental Health.

Hernandez was speaking in response to the recent enforcement of the 11 a.m. cut-off time at the 7-Eleven located at Elden Street and Alabama Drive where workers have recently been ushered off the property by a hired security guard.

"We come here and are really dedicated and interested in finding work," he said. "Many of us have left our families very far away because in our countries we don't have the opportunity to work."

Of the roughly 20 day laborers present at the meeting, all said their families were still in their native countries, but that they sent money home to them every month.

Amy Langrehr, day labor coordinator for Reston Interfaith, said most of the workers she talks with do have a family they are trying to support in Herndon.

Saint also raised the issue that a number of workers are homeless, saying she has clients who sleep on the streets or in shelters.

In addition to wanting a permanent site, the day laborers said other issues they deal with include not being paid for their work, affordable housing, obtaining proper documentation and the need for winter clothes, coats and boots.

AT THE MEETING, comprised of roughly 40 community members — residents or active group participants — and the day labor workers, discussed completed tasks and laid groundwork for finding a formal site within six months.

Mayor Michael O'Reilly addressed the group first to update them on the Town Council's process with funding and finding a site.

O'Reilly said he and Dranesville District Supervisor Joan Dubois currently have been urging Fairfax County to speed up a county-wide program to alleviate the day labor site problem.

"The problem is Fairfax County wants to adopt a county-wide program that will fit each site on their time-table," he said. "Herndon is different, we're special. We move a little more quickly than other areas."

The next step, according to O'Reilly, is to help educate the county so that they can take the lead on managing a day labor site in Herndon — adding that is something the town cannot and will not do.

"We've located a site and we need to expedite the process," he said to the group, noting the county could eventually assist them with a site on a contractual level. "Our hope is that by the time our site is vacated by the Herndon Police Department the county will have the funds to move into the site."

ALTHOUGH THE TOWN is ahead of the county's December 2006 projection to have a site solution, there are still many kinks to work out.

Numerous issues can be solved by Project Hope and Harmony because they are a community-run group, but because the group is young it is still establishing itself in the community.

At the meeting the group, which has already set up three committees — site location, community outreach and social services — created its executive board to make sure the mission and vision statements are being executed.

Before naming the board, the group heard from a representative of each committee.

Representing social services, Langrehr recapped day laborers assisted by Reston Interfaith — showing the need for social services and emphasizing the large amount of workers needing assistance outside of job placement.

Sarah Ince, director of social services for Reston Interfaith, said the community outreach committee is planning to spend more time educating the community on the group's efforts.

"We're planning an in-depth community outreach, especially in the community around the Herndon Police Department because is sounds like that's where a site will be," she said.

The Rev. Stephen Smith-Cobbs, facilitator of the meeting, added that it is "vital to keep the day labor discussions positive" and that the group should focus on the issues rather than people.

"There have been letters to the editors in local papers that turn out to really be letters to each other in public form," he said about some of the negative community comments. "We need to recognize even if people don't necessarily live where the potential site may be, it's going to be something that affects the town as a whole."

ON BEHALF of the site location committee, Kerrie Wilson, CEO of Reston Interfaith, said there could be some difficulties with the Herndon Police Station as a site because it is built on Herndon and Loudoun County property.

"Now in the Town of Herndon it is an official use to have a formal day labor site," she said about a zoning ordinance text amendment (ZOTA) that was approved in 2003. "If we can find a site that meets the conditions of the ZOTA we can get started."

Liz Hagg, director of neighborhood resources for the town, reminded the group that regardless of the site and the ZOTA there will be "a variety of public hearings where people can come out to express their opinions and concerns", adding that the Herndon Police Department site is "by no means easy."

"We ask that you please help by negotiating during these six months," said Hernandez on behalf of the day laborers to the group, "so we can have what we wish for."