As framing material, I work in a city that might as well be called 'Farmersville' -- very rural focused, despite technically being a city. Farmlands all over the place. As such, it's not exactly the tech capital of the world, and tech jobs are highly limited, difficult to find, and in the past have been spread out all over town. The situation is made worse because we are relatively proximate to San Francisco, being about 4 hours away by car, so a lot of tech opportunities just go there instead. And yes, that means I live in California.
My (now former) employer is a company that has held me as a contractor for nearly two years. They recently moved me to employee status for a short period, putting me in a new 'tech hub' office building that is trying to change the nature of the tech business here in town (in part by renting office space to smaller companies at reasonable rates).
My employers ran out of money to pay me, and informed me that I was laid off two weeks ago. It was all a very amicable parting. Then they lost some jobs because people chose to contract with me directly. A perspective client who kept 'having work coming up' wound up coming up with work the week after I was laid off, and chose to go with me directly. No paperwork was signed then, but a clear intention to do work. (My first move was to try and get in on a job position I'd heard they had open, but it turned out they'd just filled it). Above and beyond this (and outside of my current concerns, I think), part of the building's premise was to help make them available for clients to find, and now jobs they could have gone for will probably go straight to me.
From my perspective, the moment they laid me off, I became a free agent again -- even if they planned to use me as a contractor in the future.
There's nothing in the contract I signed with them that covers non-competition, the closest is a clause that was supposed to keep me from poaching their clients from them. In fact, the contract in question was only for contracting work -- they never got me a new agreement for being an actual employee.
What is the most professional way to handle this conflict?