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T Q&A

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T. VanHook is the president and CEO of RISE Inc., a nonprofit that focuses on job training for the homeless. In 1997, RISE was founded as part of a partnership between Primavera, Our Town Family Center, Compass Health Care and COPE Behavior Services; it became a separate, independent 501(c)(3) corporation in 2003. RISE currently employees between 40-45 employees, many of whom were at one time homeless. RISE is holding a fundraising golf tourney at the Hilton El Conquistador at 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 23. For more information about RISE, including employment opportunities, or the golf tournament, check out www.rise-inc.org.

Suppose I find myself homeless. How could you help me?

You would come to our drop-in office at 119 E. Toole Ave., and we'd start by doing an intake. You would have to answer a lot of questions, and then we would make an assessment or a plan. We call upon partnering agencies to help. If you need shelter, we would make some emergency calls. We'd call the Community Food Bank for a food box. Are you ill or need medication? We would contact El Rio for medical services. If you're a veteran, we contact Veterans (Affairs) and see how they fit in. When you have some of the basic necessities, like shelter, food and medical care, then we start thinking about job training.

So how can you help me with job training?

First, we would determine your skills. If you have job skills, we help you complete job applications, build your résumé and connect you to jobs. If you don't have any skills, we set you up in one of our micro enterprises, where you can learn a skill and a wage and provide you with a suitable uniform.

What is a micro enterprise?

We have three micro enterprises: Downtown Don't Waste It! is an income-generating recycling enterprise, providing door-to-door recycling to Tucson's downtown core. Recycling services are customized to meet the needs of individual merchants, business groups and office towers.

Each business pays a small fee; then we take that fee and pair it with economic development funding from the city of Tucson, which pays the salaries for Tucson's most disadvantaged citizens. Last year, an anonymous donor donated a cardboard baler, which doubled our recycling revenue. In 2004-2005, we recycled 232.3 tons of material which would've gone to the city's landfill. We also sold another 68,000 tons of baled cardboard to a recycling company.

Interesting.

Another enterprise, Positive Impact, provides environmentally friendly office cleaning, maintenance and gardening services to downtown commercial clients, so low-income adults can learn job skills in a supportive environment.

Our newest micro enterprise is Creative Impact, where we custom-make ceramic tiles and vases and some unique handmade items for other nonprofits to use as thank you gifts or to give to sponsors. For instance, we made custom tiles for a Tucson Botanical Gardens capital project.

What kinds of employment opportunities are available for the homeless?

We partner with landscaping companies; we do not want to compete with them. We focus on filling those gaps not economically feasible or commercially viable. For instance, let's take recycling. The blue bins don't serve downtown. Don't Waste It! satisfies a need as part of a sustainable community by filling a gap in existing services. The homeless also do small landscaping jobs for five nonprofits who try to give back to the people they serve.

Along with job training, does RISE offer any other incentives?

Yes. We encourage employees to set goals, save money and take a money-management class. When someone in our program deposits $25 in a bank account, it gets matched with a $25 gift certificate to a local grocery store. After there is a minimum of $300 in the savings account and they are ready to move into an apartment, a grant funded by the Arizona Diamondbacks pays up to $150 for utility deposits, move-in expenses or household items.

Homelessness and unemployment seem like such a brutal cycle. What needs to happen to break that chain?

That's a really hard question. When a homeless recycler goes into a law office or restaurant wearing their uniform and professionally provides a service, the business staff has no idea that the person they deal with is homeless. What needs to happen is the public's perception of the homeless has to change in order to invite more job opportunities and to let the homeless know that their contribution can make a difference.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like the downtown businesses to see RISE as a resource for rebuilding downtown while adding meaning to the lives of Tucson's homeless.

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