Center For Workers Under Budget's Gun -- City Gives It Support, May Not Give It Money

Casa Latina's Day Workers Center is hardly a workers' paradise.

But for the 60 or so mostly Hispanic men who arrive with the sunrise each day looking for work, the groomed and tidy triangular lot beats walking the streets or huddling under the Alaskan Way Viaduct waiting for someone to offer them a job.

There is shelter, hot coffee, toilets and even English classes at the Western Avenue center in Belltown.

But good intentions don't pay the bills, and Casa Latina officials say that without $110,000 from the city next year, the innovative program will be shut down, or at least scaled back.

"We've made incredible progress in the four months it has been open - if we have to close, it will be very demoralizing," said Hilary Stern, the organization's executive director.

Neighbors, police and the workers themselves say the nonprofit Casa Latina has improved a bad situation since it opened the job-dispatch center last July with help from the city, volunteers and a neighborhood business group.

Stern and dozens of supporters made their case for more money at a Seattle City Council hearing this week, and the campaign has begun to pay off.

There is widespread support on the council for the program, but the question is just how much the city can afford. Councilman Richard Conlin has proposed at least $65,000 for the program, possibly the entire $110,000 if he can find enough votes.

But the center is just one of dozens of projects jockeying for

position in next year's budget.

Looming over the entire discussion is the loss of nearly $20.4 million next year from car tabs as a result of Initiative 695. Though better-than-expected revenue this year has cushioned the blow, the city is still considering cutbacks in most departments.

Mayor Paul Schell originally proposed giving Casa Latina $18,500 next year, enough to pay for the City Light-owned property and cover the retail price of a trailer and portable toilets. Private fund raising would cover the rest.

But Stern said she had already tapped out most of those sources opening the center this summer. ------------------------------- J. Martin McOmber's phone-message number is 206-515-5628. His e-mail address is