Job Training Opens Doors for the Homeless, March 1985

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In 1985, Trissena Radcliffe was living in a welfare hotel in Manhattan with her two-year-old son, Rondell, no job and few marketable skills. The future was looking bleak.

Sixteen years later, Radcliffe works as a token clerk for New York City Transit. Remarried, she has two more children: Bessie, age 14 and 10-year-old Lamar. And this formerly homeless woman, so down on her luck when City Limits first wrote about her in 1985, now owns a two-family house on Staten Island.

A single helping hand–an innovative job training program that no longer exists–made all the difference for Radcliffe. With a grant from the New York Community Trust, LaGuardia Community College had just started a job training program for homeless women. Radcliffe saw an ad for the classes in a local newspaper, and decided to give it a try.

“Sometimes people just need motivation and a place to go,” Radcliffe says. “Instead of watching stories on TV, I needed to keep active. Once you start motivating yourself, you feel more connected.”

While job training was certainly nothing new, the LaGuardia program was unique in recognizing that homeless people’s lives have extra complications. It went the extra mile by covering transportation and child care costs, eliminating the two biggest barriers to training and employment for homeless people.

It worked. Radcliffe learned computer skills, typing and business English. When the course ended, she moved into an apartment in Ridgewood, Queens, and landed a job as a secretary. Although her rise was not smooth–she quit working and went back on public assistance for several years when an ex-husband began to harass her–Radcliffe recovered. She headed back to work in 1991, first as a security guard, then flipping burgers at a White Castle, before joining the Transit Authority.

But the LaGuardia classes, which became a model for similar programs, are no longer in session. According to Pat White, a senior grants officer for the New York Community Trust, the grant was designed only to establish the program and run it for two years. The college managed to keep it going through 1995.

For Radcliffe, though, the opportunity she found a decade and a half ago endures to this day. “The program definitely helped,” she says. “I think I realized that if you want something better out of life, you have to get out and work for it. You have to give it a try.”

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