- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A nonprofit that runs a day-laborer center in Herndon said yesterday the center has been a success since it opened last month, and it hopes the center will serve as a model for other communities searching for ways to deal with day laborers.

Officials with Project Hope and Harmony said they have managed to get all day laborers, most of whom are illegal aliens, to congregate at the Herndon Official Workers Center. Before the center opened Dec. 14, the laborers congregated about a mile away, at street corners or outside convenience stores in the town.

“We’re quite encouraged,” said Joel Mills, the group’s spokesman, at a press conference yesterday. But “we’re certainly not ready to declare victory on this issue. We have a long way to go.”

The average daily count of workers using the formal center during the first two weeks of operation was 97, compared with an average of 95 workers congregating two weeks before at a 7-Eleven at the intersection of Alabama Drive and Elden Street, officials said.

However, the employment rate of laborers at the formal site is lower than at the informal site, officials said. About 15 laborers are hired each day at the formal center, compared with about 20 hires at the old site.

Officials attribute the slump to cold weather, distance from the old site and arranged pickups of laborers from spots central to their homes and to their employers’ businesses. Organizers expect the numbers of laborers to swell in spring.

“These are the best numbers you could want for the startup of a day-laborer center,” Mr. Mills said.

The center, which is funded partly by taxpayers, also offers English classes and restroom facilities, among other things, for the laborers.

Officials said they have received a few complaints, including one of a laborer jaywalking. Zoning officials reported one violation of the town’s anti-solicitation law, which prohibits laborers from seeking work outside the formal site. Also, officials with the center reprimanded two workers for rushing vehicles at the formal site.

Officials said they have received vast community support, including more than $7,000 in donations of food, clothes and other equipment and more than 300 hours of volunteer services by community members.

“What we were trying to do with this, and what we think we’ve succeeded in doing, is cleaning up Elden Street, [which] was unmanaged,” said Ellen Kaminsky, an executive board member who lives in Herndon. “That has been fixed, so I see that this is a success.”

In summer, merchants complained that day laborers who gathered in front of their businesses rushed cars, harassed women, drank and urinated in their parking lots as they waited for work.

Merchants said yesterday that the formal center has eliminated those problems.

“We don’t have any more problems,” said Ray Brar, a business owner. “It’s good for my customers and myself.”

However, some say they lost revenue since the laborers left.

“They used to buy candy and phone cards,” said Nia Nia, a gas station manager. “It’s a paradox, a Catch-22. It’s good that we don’t see them here, but at the same time, we have lost business. [Still] I wouldn’t want them to come back.”

Organizers will continue to collect data on the center and the complaints they receive. The data will be posted on the group’s Web site, at www.projecthopeharmony.org.

Organizers also said that the presence of the Herndon Minutemen, a group of residents who videotape employers who hire illegals at the site, has not affected operations.

Bill Threlkeld, the group’s executive director, said despite its success at ridding the town’s downtown corridor of laborers, his group doesn’t plan to open more centers.

“We’ve got plenty of work here to do,” he said.

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