Newsom's 'Opportunity' jobs program good to go 

More than two years in the making, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Communities of Opportunity program is ready to begin enrolling residents in four public housing neighborhoods in promised jobs and service programs.

Working out of newly created community centers in Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, the initiative seeks to simplify and centralize access to city services and jobs by creating a one-stop program, similar to the approach used in another of Newsom’s programs, Project Homeless Connect.

To date, 500 of the 15,000-plus residents that live in the four public housing sites have signed on to give the program a try. On Thursday, $500,000 worth of new programs for residents — ranging from college prep classes to credit restoration assistance — was announced.

Dwayne Jones, executive director of Communities of Opportunity, said that while two years have been spent building infrastructure, now the program was "at the real launch."

"This is when we’re saying, ‘Fine, now hold us accountable from this day moving forward,’" Jones said.

Some residents were ready to do just that. At the Hunters Point Youth Park, the mayor’s first stop, Newsom was tailed by two women who said the Communities of Opportunity program had failed to connect them with jobs.

"There’s no point in coming down here if they aren’t going to give you a job," said Tyisha Hamilton, 21. "I have an associate’s degree. When I give them my résumé, nobody calls me back."

Jones acknowledged that there was still a lot of skepticism about the promise of Communities of Opportunity.

"We’re working on the heels of several decades of failed promises," he said. Several hundred jobs would come online through the program, he said.

When fully implemented, the Communities of Opportunity program is expected to cost about

$43 million annually. Most of the funding will come from taxpayer dollars, from the budgets of 13 city agencies, but the program also depends upon philanthropic generosity. To date, $5 million has been generated for the program from private foundations, but by 2008, a gap of $13 million annually will be left open for charitable dollars to fill, according to the program’s business plan.

Newsom said he is optimistic that the private dollars will be raised, "if we demonstrate success," while also acknowledging, "if we don’t, we won’t."

beslinger@examiner.com

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