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San Francisco Program Trains Homeless for Tech Jobs

2018-11-4

The city of San Francisco is home to some of the nation’s largest technology companies, including Twitter and Uber.

At the same time, it has one of the largest homeless populations in the country. Homelessness and job displacement for local people continue to rise.

But, one program is helping to connect the two worlds for job seekers. Del Seymour created the program. He was once homeless himself.

For years, Seymour suffered from using illegal drugs.

“And I wandered these streets like a zombie, day or night, for 18 years, using drugs, selling drugs, being arrested. I have 14 felony arrests in this neighborhood.”

He spent those years in a neighborhood known as the Tenderloin, an area with an extremely high rate of homelessness and drug use.

However, in recent years, large companies like Twitter, AirBnB and Uber have moved in or near the Tenderloin area.

“But they started importing people from other regions and countries to work in the neighborhood,” Seymour said.

That was hard for Daniel Henry, a formerly homeless man who hopes to get a technology job.

“My friends see how tech savvy I am and [say], ‘You should be working in tech, and I was like, ‘You’re right, I should.’”

A few years ago, Seymour started making phone calls to technology companies. He thought it was unfair for the companies to ignore local people, including homeless ones.

“You’re not going to come in my neighborhood and ignore my people,” he said. “You’re going to include us in your business.”

To everyone’s surprise, the companies started answering. As a result, Seymour started Code Tenderloin. It is a nonprofit organization that is giving homeless and other needy people a path to employment, including jobs in technology companies.

The organization offers classes in coding for computer languages such as HTML, CSS and javascript.

It also gives six-week training classes in job readiness. The class teaches students public speaking, resume building, interviewing and other skills.

Victoria Westbrook is director of programs and operations at Code Tenderloin. She says the organization works with all kinds of people who have barriers to employment.

“So that can mean anything from reentry (getting out of prison), homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, victims or survivors of domestic violence. It can be pretty much anybody that is under- or unemployed.”

Code Tenderloin students visit technology companies to meet people, ask questions and learn from employees.

Alphonso Williams is a Code Tenderloin student. He says he enjoys each visit to a new tech company.

“I learn something new. Hopefully I can learn something else. Coding—I’m really getting into coding.”

There is no cost for classes at Code Tenderloin and, in some cases, computers are provided.

Although only a small number of students have found full-time technology jobs, a number of others have gotten internships through the program. And, many others have found other full-time jobs.

Jennifer Friedenbach is the executive director of Coalition on Homelessness, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco.

She says it is important for homeless people to believe that they can find work. “Even if you don’t land a coding job, you might land a different job,” she says. “The movement toward that is really important for folks lifting themselves out of poverty.”

Seymour adds that the organization works with students individually to give them extra attention and skill support.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Deana Mitchell reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

zombie – n. a person who moves very slowly and is not aware of what is happening

felony n. a serious crime

regionn. a part of a country or the world that is different or separate from other parts in some way

savvyadj. having practical understanding or knowledge of something

codev. to change information into a set of letters, numbers or symbols that can be read by a computer

resumen. a short document describing your education, work history and skills that you give an employer when applying for a job

internshipn. a job given to a student or recent graduate who works for a period of time in order to get experience