Construction company trains homeless

A Lakeside construction company is working on becoming a solution to the homeless population in East County, and beyond.

A.M. Ortega began its own pilot program with up to 10 people currently in shelter at the East County Transitional LivingCenter through its East County Empowerment Program. Ortega will provide a month-long program where candidates learn in a classroom setting as well as hands-on training, mostly at Ortega’s state-of-the-art training center.

The training began on May 8, where A.M. Ortega owner and President Maurice Ortega welcomed the candidates to its “boot camp,” receiving their own personal protective equipment, and Ortega shirt, pants, safety work boots, safety vest and hard hat. Ortega also presented a $15,000 donation to ECTLC. Candidates will graduate on May 25, and become employees of A.M. Ortega.

Ortega said when he started his business back in 1974 with his wife Linda, it was a struggle. He said they had no financial support and did not know how to maneuver in operating a business. They had an idea of where they wanted to go, and as they built the company to where it is today.

“Unfortunately, I lost her back in 2014 to cancer, so she never got to see this dream come true as far as giving back to the community,” he said. “We built a training center in 2016/17 and it was completed in 2018. It was really good for our company in developing a strong workforce. But then, we saw it would be nice to bring other organizations in and train people in how to get involved in construction. If your family is not involved in construction, or a friend, or someone you know personally, how do you find yourself in this industry? Or how to get in this industry.”

Ortega said the issue of homelessness is getting worse year by year and people complain about it but do nothing.

“It is getting to the point where we are getting desensitized by it,” he said, adding that you used to see this issue in third world countries, but not here. “Today it is terrible. So, either you can become a complainer of the problem, or you can be part of the solution. If everybody took a small step in trying to become part of the solution, we could solve this. Or at least make a dent in it. And that is all we are trying to do is to make a dent in it. Last year, we teamed with a company, and they went to target just one ethnic group. I was trying to bring in ECTLC in at that point, and they wanted nothing to do with it.”

Ortega said he wanted to do something different this year.

“We are not doing this because it is good for our customers,” he said. “If they can benefit from this, then fantastic. This is just a good fit. We are an East County company, ECTLC is East County. I belong to the East County Posse and that is how I got introduced to the ECTLC. It is a great group of guys. Right down Olde Highway 80 is our facility, so it will be easy to work with the ECTLC, and if they do not have transportation, they can get from point A to point B. Once we train them and if they do not have transportation, we can get them to a jobsite. All the way around it is a perfect fit. We want to give back as an East County based company and the locations are perfect to helping ones get back on their feet.”

Ortega said he would like this to be the first and keep the program moving. He said he does not expect all 10 people to come into the program and all of them graduate.

“If we can get 50%, then that is a homerun,” he said. “I’ll be happy with 20%. Then we can do it again and again. With the East County Posse, there are many developers, contractors, and land developers that are involved. We are reaching out to them too. We want to give them the opportunity to bring on good employees as well. We are going to bring those folks over, introduce them to all the contractors out here in East County and see if they want to participate in hiring them as well. We have the facility. We have the trainers. We have the ability to get people back into the fix of society again.”

Ortega said years ago, they could not have been able to do this financially, but now is the time to give back.

“We want to give back and this is exciting,” he said. “Not just me, but the entire company is excited about this. I come in with goofy ideas all the time and do not get 100% buy in. I have 100% buy in with this project. Everybody is participating in this.”

Ortega said its safety person went to ECTLC last week and spoke to some men there and there where “tears in their eyes just to be given the opportunity to get back into the swing of things.”

“This is so important,” he said. “Everybody is getting emotionally attached to this idea of what we are trying to accomplish. If we get 20% out of this, I am going to call it a win, win, win – for everybody. That means we got 20% of the group we train back into society again. Back to be functioning. Back to be supporting their families. What a great thing. If we can show giving back as a small contractor here in San Diego, if others start to see that, maybe we will get some traction back from all sorts of businesses.”

Ortega said he understands that he knows that he does not have the ability to help all of those who are homeless, but if he can help the ones that he can, he can consider himself and his company as part of the solution.

Ortega said he and his wife got the company up to 410 people, and now it is down to 230 people working for the company and he is trying to build up his workforce back to the 400 mark.

Ortega said on-the-job training is not happening anymore, and the community and industry needs people back in the trades, but hopefully, he can make a dent there also.