‘All they want is an opportunity:’ Current, former squeegee workers come to job fair with big goals

Published 7/9/2022 6:00 a.m. EDT, Updated 7/11/2022 11:31 a.m. EDT

Talon Henriques, 22, stands outside the job fair at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on East Pratt Street.
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Talon Henriques, 22, started squeegeeing for money six years ago on Conway Street.

“I got a son,” he said, “so I’m saving up every cent.”

But Thursday was his last day, he said. Now, he’s on track to get a job.

He showed up at 9:45 a.m. Friday for a job fair at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and spent about four hours interviewing at every booth, he said.

“I think I got every job,” Henriques said, holding packets of materials in both hands.

The job fair was hosted by the Mayor’s Office of African American Male Engagement and the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. Mayor Brandon Scott, in a tweet Wednesday, said there would be “on the spot job offers for 40 jobs, especially tailored for squeegee workers and young jobseekers.”

The event came just a day after a deadly confrontation in the Inner Harbor that involved a motorist and one or more squeegee workers. Witnesses and police say a man, later identified as 48-year-old Timothy Reynolds of Hampden, drove through the intersection of Light and Conway streets, got out of his car with a bat and began swinging at one or more of the squeegee workers. In response, one of the workers fatally wounded Reynolds. The shooter ran away, and the investigation is ongoing.

The incident ignited an already contentious debate about what to do about squeegee workers, the young mostly Black males who post up at intersections and clean windshields for money. Some say they deter visitors from downtown; others praise their entrepreneurial spirit.

Tracey Estep, senior manager of programs and operations for the Mayor’s Office of African American Male Engagement, believes they just need an opportunity.

“Because young people, they want to do better,” she said. “They want to make something of themselves, and all they want is an opportunity.

“So if we provide them with the opportunity and the means to be successful, you’ll see less young people out on the corner squeegeeing, more young people being able to provide for themselves, make a living, make an honest living, and then they will be good stewards of the city.”

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Estep said the city will provide the job seekers with training before they begin their jobs, as well as a mentor to keep them focused. They’ll work preliminarily for six months, “with the hope that they’ll do well and they will be hired permanently.”

Job fair attendees moved from booth to booth, shaking hands and answering interview questions.

One 19-year-old, who asked that his name not be used, said he started squeegeeing at age 13, continuing for about four years.

“At first, I didn’t really used to want to do it,” he said. He added that he mostly just walked around, and didn’t get paid much.

“But after a while, it was like, nobody else is really going to do anything for me,” he said. His mother was struggling, too, and he needed money. “So I knew I had to do something.”

It was good pay, he said. He could make hundreds of dollars a day.

Now, he has a baby on the way. His girlfriend is six weeks pregnant, he said. He also has long-term goals.

“I like music, I rap, I want to start my own studio one day,” he said. “That’s what I want to invest my money in.”

Others had similarly ambitious goals.

Davion Hodges stands outside the job fair at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on East Pratt Street.

“I’m going to end up doing a lot of stuff,” said Davion Hodges, 22, who squeegeed for about a year or two in his teens. He already has a job but brought a friend to the fair to apply.

Hodges works at the Revival Hotel, a job he got through a program run by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, and is also going to school for welding.

“So once I’m done welding, I’m going to turn to either [information technology] or real estate,” Hodges said. “Once I’ve done those, I’m going to jump into painting and construction.”

His mother used to be a professional painter, he said. She died last October from lung cancer, and he wants to start a painting company in her name.

“That’s really just my mission,” Hodges said. “I just want to honor my mother.”

With lots of aspirations, he made up a slogan for himself.

“Humble and hungry,” he said. “That really describes me, because I’m humble, but you wouldn’t tell how hungry I am for what I’m going for because I don’t show.”

He originally turned to squeegeeing for money, to support his family, but also to buy school supplies and other things, he said. He said he could make hundreds of dollars a day.

Tristan Penn, 24, stands outside the job fair at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on East Pratt Street.

Tristan Penn, 24, remembered a brief period years ago when he squeegeed in Baltimore. He said he once made $612 in a day.

But Penn said he stopped because he moved to Denver to live with his grandfather and attend high school. And also “because I didn’t want to be looked at as one of the bad apples, ‘cause that’s not me,” he said.

“There’s always bad apples that mess it up for everybody else,” he said. “There’s times when I would come to people nicely and they was like, ‘I would give you the money but I got scammed before by one of y’all.’ ”

Penn landed a job offer with the city parks department. He’ll clean up after concerts, cut grass and whack weeds, he said.

Hodges said squeegee workers are just trying to make money.

“Ain’t nothing wrong with it. You can make a dollar however you want to, just staying out of trouble,” he said.

“They trying to do their job without no trouble at all. I know that. I been doing it before. That’s all I wanted, to make a dollar with no trouble.”

A 23-year-old, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Johnson, has been squeegeeing for about 10 years. On Friday, he landed a job with the city Department of Public Works, where he’ll be doing landscaping, among other tasks.

But even with the new job, “It’s never enough money,” he said.

He has to care for his family, he said. His mother suffered a stroke in 2018, and he has to make enough money to pay the rent — $900 a month, he said.

He’ll continue to squeegee, he said. He planned to head to President Street after his interview.

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