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Monday, July 19, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Millionair Club finds new focus

By Tan Vinh
Seattle Times staff reporter

After getting a work order from The Millionair Club on Western Avenue, Robert Erickson checks his job details before boarding the Metro 42 bus at Second and Pike. He was assigned to move appliances and do yard work in South Seattle. Erickson says he gets work about every three days.
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The Millionair Club Charity, which for 83 years has matched homeless and poor people wanting employment with homeowners needing yard work, painting and other odd jobs done cheaply, will shift its workers more toward area businesses.

The move is meant to give low-income day workers more marketable job skills and improve their chances to train for or get hired into entry-level jobs.

"We are trying to develop partnerships with businesses where we are going to identify workers who truly want permanent full-time work and are responsible enough to get it and maintain it," said Doug Hamre, who manages The Millionair Club's labor program.

The aggressive push also is designed to reinvigorate and reinvent the nonprofit agency, whose reserves have been cut in half, to $1.4 million, in a down economy. The club said it will spend at least $60,000 this year on fund-raisers, mass mailings and a public-relations firm to increase its visibility and make it more competitive for a smaller pool of grants and foundation money.

Getting in touch

The Millionair Club Charity's day-labor program can be reached at 206-728-5627 between 6:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturdays.

"People do not know who we are," said Richard Bridges, The Millionair Club's executive director.

While the new emphasis will be on partnerships with business, homeowners still can use the club for help with yard work and other chores, administrators said.

The club was started in 1921 in a Pioneer Square basement by Martin Johanson, who gave it a grand name because he said helping others made him feel like a millionaire. (He dropped the "e" to underscore that you don't have to be rich to lend support.) The club moved to Belltown on Western Avenue in 1940.

The Seattle institution has provided more than 800,000 jobs and served more than 9.5 million meals.

Those seeking work check into its office in Belltown at 6 a.m. in the hopes of being sent out to jobs that run for four hours to a full day or longer, at $8 to $10 an hour.

The club provides bus tokens, and it operates a soup kitchen, vision clinic, résumé service and a shower-and-laundry facility so workers can clean up before their assignments.

Dozens of homeless and poor people line up early in the morning at The Millionair Club on Western Avenue for breakfast and the opportunity to get a work assignment for the day or longer.
When the economy was skyrocketing in the late 1990s, many residents who called asking for workers to be sent their way were turned down or were wait-listed, because the demand for cheap labor far exceeded the supply of people coming to the club seeking jobs, senior administrators said.

Maurice Jordan of Seattle recalled getting hundreds of jobs — from cleaning roofs to sanding boats — through The Millionair Club during those boom times.

"It did so much for me," said Jordan, who was employed through the service for 14 years and now works for a moving company. "It helped me get clothing and helped me get something to eat."

These days, he said, his friends are among dozens who line up every morning seeking work — and may or may not get it.

Now only "60 percent of people who come in will get sent on a job," Bridges said.

The number of staff members has been cut in half to 16, and the club has closed its thrift store and a construction-work training program and has stopped serving dinner.

The club also faces competition from several other day-labor programs and an influx of migrant workers competing for scarce jobs.

While the club's cheap labor always has been available to businesses, the club will begin giving businesses priority on its most sought-after labor — including movers, painters and carpenters.

"We need help from the businesses because they are the ones who provide the jobs in the end," Bridges said.

He said the club also is trying to place more homeless individuals into transitional housing to show employers they have a stable environment. The club is in negotiations with area transitional-housing organizations to reserve some beds for its workers, administrators said.

It also is exploring whether there is enough business interest to open branches in Everett and Tacoma.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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