A jobs fair is set for 6:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 29, in Wasco to test the waters for how many people might be qualified for or interested in working at a planned 14-bed childrens’ diversion center that would employ 50 people.
The center would house kids in family crisis who need a safe, temporary respite until they’re returned home or to another safe arrangement, said Mike Smith, who has been working for over 18 months to bring the facility and its jobs to Wasco.
The center, to be built on the grounds of the Wasco Event Center, the former grade school, would house youth, mostly age 13-17, who have been removed from homes.
Often, such removals happen in the middle of the night, and there are no safe places to take the children so they end up staying in a hotel room with a social services staffer watching over them, Smith said.
Usually, the removals are no fault of the children. “Usually it’s their family that blows up, but they don’t blow up Tuesday at three, they blow up Friday night,” Smith said.
He said kids would stay at the facility just two to three days, typically, or a month at most. “You can calm them down, figure out what the best thing is to go, get them some breathing room,” he said.
Community Counseling Solutions already has the $2 million in funding for the facility, which would be designed to be as nondescript and homelike as possible, Smith said.
The entity provides mental health services for Gilliam, Wheeler, Grant and Morrow counties, and wants the facility as close to available services in western Oregon as possible, but still within the boundaries of the regional health organization it belongs to, Smith said.
Sherman, Wasco and Hood River counties would be able to use the facility also, said Smith, who was hired by CCS as a consultant to locate the facility somewhere in Sherman County.
Community Counseling Solutions does have a concern about the number of potential employees that would be available to work there, Smith said, and the job fair is a way of demonstrating enough people would be available to work.
Smith said relevant workforce training entities all “believe we have the talent in the Mid-Columbia region. This is a way to show that is true.”
He said, “The project is fully funded and located. Now we need to locate the talent to make this center a great success.”
Positions available include facilities administrator, peer support specialist, nurse supervisor, registered nurse, administrative assistant, mental health specialist III, social worker, residential associate, cook, clinical supervisor, mentor, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, support specialist I, II, and III, accounting clerk, maintenance, qualified mental health associate (QMHA) program manager, QMHA case manager, QMHA social service supervisor and assistants, therapist, billing, referral and contracts coordinator, program director, and others.
These are “great jobs that pay well, health care, real benefits, a real career,” he said.
If an interested candidate needed further training to qualify for some positions, Columbia Gorge Community College, the Oregon Department of Employment and East Cascades Works are all working together to help provide it, Smith said.
Letters of interest from potential job candidates should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wasco Event Center is located at 903 Barnett St. in Wasco.
It should take a year to build the facility once the decision is made to proceed, Smith said.
He said the government spends “so much money on this problem, an incredible amount of money. This is a huge savings.”
The facility expects to get half its employees from Sherman County. “It takes a lot more of a particular kind of employee to run this this way, so we’re going to start a social media campaign,” Smith said.
They are also looking to draw employees from Wasco, Gilliam and Wheeler counties.
He said a lot of people from Sherman County would love to move home, but jobs aren’t available. This may change that. He said just one family from Sherman County had qualifications for five of the available jobs. “It gives them options to come home if they want to.”
Smith said he was amazed to learn that 67 percent of people who live in Sherman County who work leave the county to go to work.
“I was absolutely shocked by that number. I though it was 30 percent and I thought that was high,” he said. “It’s almost 70 percent, and that really surprises me.”
He said “We need 3.5 to four nurses. I was able to of the top of my head think of a dozen that lived here and only one works in the county.”
The event center is owned by the City of Wasco, which has given its support to the plan, Smith said.