As reported by 

Willie Earl Walker’s life may truly be taking a turn for the better, considering his latest dilemma.

The 59-year-old recovering addict who’s been homeless on and off for some 15 years is among 14 local people enrolled in the new, no-cost Clean Start janitorial training program announced Monday by Knox Area Rescue Ministries.

The five-week course is specific to cleaning work in hotels, hospitals and commercial kitchens, including two-week internships at one of several local business partners — the University of Tennessee Medical Center, the Knoxville Convention Center, the downtown Crowne Plaza hotel and Green Mountain Coffee.

Walker, who has spent his nights for the past year at KARM’s overnight shelter on Broadway, listened anxiously to the details at Monday’s announcement, wondering whether to take the course in light of another job possibility with Goodwill Industries.

“This might be the start of a new life, a new profession,” said Walker, weighing the full-time course work or immediate job.

Tracy Hicks, KARM’s director of operations, emphasized that Clean Start’s businesses partners always need well-trained cleaning staff members.

“The relationship doesn’t end after the internship,” she said. “They’re all seriously looking for full-time employees.”

The Crowne Plaza Knoxville employs about 40 housekeepers. “I’d say the chances (for job openings) are pretty good,” general manager Ken Knight said. “And those folks are going to have a leg up …. Virtually everybody we hire we have to start from scratch with on training.”

Teachers are volunteers from Knoxville-based cleaning supplies manufacturer Kelsan Inc. Supplies and textbooks are from companies such as Rubbermaid, Georgia-Pacific, Bright Solutions, Gojo and Tennant.