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Homeless Guerneville man on a career path with help from Sonoma County

"I have been in and out of homeless shelters. Most of the time I have been in a tent


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    GUERNEVILLE, California (KPIX) — Not all unhoused citizens lives fit an all-too-common perception of people suffering addiction and rejecting outreach while living on city streets.

There are those forced into homelessness due to life circumstances who want something better.

In the North Bay there is a new program to help unhoused people get stable jobs as a step toward providing a home for themselves. It is the Sonoma County Job Link Homeless Employment Program. Since the program launched, they have supported more than 135 unhoused people with career resources.

“I have been in and out of homeless shelters. Most of the time I have been in a tent,” said Brandon McDowell.

For eight years, McDowell has been homeless. A divorce, addiction and lack of a stable job put the 44-year-old on the streets. He keeps up by working odd jobs here and there to get the cash he needs for his future plans.

“I am still going through the GED course. All I have to do is pay my $146 to take the test and if I pass it then that’s good,” he said.

With his dog Monster, McDowell is doing all of this while living in a tent in Guerneville that he is constantly moving to new locations.

“It is not something that you want to do or want to be. A lot of people look down on you,” McDowell said. “It is just not us. Most of us are out here because we fall on hard times. We are not all the same but we are just trying to struggle, just trying to survive.”

In the last year McDowell hit a life-changing juncture.

“I got tired of this. I needed a better job,” McDowell said. “Being on drugs you can’t get work and I wanted to do this welding thing and I said ‘look, it’s about time I straighten out.'”

He went to Sonoma County Job Link, a resource for job-seekers and employers. It offers free, personalized job-search assistance.

“Brandon came in motivated and really focused. He came in knowing exactly what he needed. He had already tried getting employed,” said Dawn Montgomery, Job Link employment and training counselor.

Job Link’s newest program is their homeless employment program. McDowell was given a laptop to help him complete his GED courses.

“It is overwhelming. We have, I think, our last homeless count last year was over 2,000 here in Sonoma County,” Montgomery said.

She attributes that number to the high cost of living.

“Essentially one bedroom can be anywhere from $1,700 to $2,300 up here in Sonoma County,” Montgomery said.

“Some of us can’t afford to pay that high price of expensive rent per month,”McDowell said. “It is a struggle every day. Everything I go through, everyday. Some days I worry about what I am going to eat, shower.”

On those days, McDowell remembers what he truly needs in his life.

“Being able to go see my kids every weekend or when I am not working,” McDowell said. “Be able to spend time with them, that is a perfect world for me. As long as I get my kids and my dog in my life, things will be fine. I think they will be perfect. I get that job and start working towards my goals. I really want to do underwater welding and I got my mind set. That is all it is going to take.”

With each small step, this man with no stable walls to call home, is making progress toward something resembling the “American Dream.”

“Sometimes we need a little hand, a little boost to help us out,” McDowell says. “We got to get that foot in the door. I am getting there, slowly. But getting there.”

McDowell has now been clean for four months and he hopes to get an apprenticeship with the Iron Workers Union within the next year. If he stays on the right path, he plans to be done in 2025 with all his certifications to be a professional welder.

The homeless pilot program only works if employers are involved. Local employers are encouraged to partner with Job Link. Each candidate with Job Link is vetted for possible employment.


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