Job fair helps local veterans

Several hundred veterans, civilians and homeless people crowded the San Luis Obispo Veterans Memorial building Thursday for a veterans job and resource fair featuring dozens of local employers and assistance agencies.

While many sat for free haircuts and browsed tables of free clothing, shoes and children’s toys, most waited patiently in a long line to interview for one of 40 temporary positions earning $26.34 per hour as a security officer at Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

Among them was a fresh-faced 20-year-old Cuesta College student hoping to start a career, a 28-year old civilian woman who moved back in with her parents in Arroyo Grande after losing a customer service job in the Bay Area and a 52-year-old veteran, now homeless for the second time in his life, traveling from Montana and looking for work along the way.

In 2009, the national unemployment rate for veterans of all eras was 8.1 percent, lower than the 9.3 percent rate for civilians, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, from 2008 to 2009, the unemployment rate for young veterans jumped from 14.1 percent to 21.6 percent.

There are 26,000 veterans in San Luis Obispo County, but the range of job-seekers — mostly victims of the recession –– was wide.

The annual event was sponsored by the Employment Development Department, and the Kenny Nicholson Memorial Foundation for Homeless Veterans was able to provide food and clothing thanks to monetary donations by Rob Hatch of Arroyo Grande.

When asked, most veterans said they feel valued by the local community.

But Tim Loftus, 36, of Atascadero said, “Honestly? No. ... Most people who find out I’m a veteran say I’m too young to have disabilities. But if you haven’t been in the military, you won’t understand.”

Loftus, who described himself as 60 percent disabled, is looking for a different job because he said his current manager at a grocery store is not understanding of Loftus’ aching knees and back.

Milt Batson, an EDD employee and veteran who organized the event, attributes unemployment among veterans to “the ordeal that they have put up with ... These people have gone through the rigors of war. Everyone has a difficult time readjusting.”

Ray Rokes, 59, explained as he received a fresh crew cut that he was laid off from a gas station job in 2007, and he has been looking for work ever since. After the haircut, he would get in line to apply for one of the 40 sought-after positions with PG&E.

When asked what he would say to younger veterans, Rokes said: “Just thanks. Thanks for doing what we did.”