If the Department of Ecology can hire teens at $11.50 per hour to pick up roadside litter throughout the state of Washington this summer, then is there a reason why the homeless can’t be hired to do the same?
And especially since a national model for hiring the homeless to pick up litter works not only in terms of tons of garbage removed from the streets, but also in the removal from the streets the homeless given the opportunities they then receive at the end of each work day for housing, jobs and other services?
The last Friday in January of each year, Pierce County conducts its Point-in-Time (PIT) Count where over 200 volunteers in the wee hours of the morning, 1 – 5 A.M., seek out “homeless individuals both sheltered (emergency shelters or transitional housing) and unsheltered individuals (those sleeping outside or living in places that are not meant for human habitation).”
“The PIT count is an annual event required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the State of Washington Department of Commerce to survey individuals experiencing homelessness across the nation. The results from the PIT are reported to create a trend analysis in the mission to end homelessness in America.”
The results of the January 26, 2018 PIT Count will be available in April but the five-year trend of those in Pierce County found sleeping in cars, below bridges, along-the-road-but-in-the-woods tented-or-tarped, is up, significantly, from 120 in 2013 to 504 in 2017.
According to the Pierce County website, “We use the information we collect to design and fund programs that help people re-establish housing and access support services to keep their housing.”
Ok, then, here’s a program worth funding to help the homeless: hire them to pick up litter.
Two years ago, this last December, the City Council of Lakewood, WA received “an entry-level primer” on homelessness. Key among the presenters was the Rescue Mission with a PowerPoint study entitled, “What if we could address the causes of homelessness and not just the systems?”
Like the warmth of a fireside was the Mission’s emphasis away from “viewing homelessness as simply a housing crisis” and instead promoting a holistic relational structure wherein those in need are paired with those who enable – as in empowerment, not as in making dependent.
In other words, give them a job.
Sure, “experts tell us that over 70% of these people who we call homeless, have problems with mental health, with substance abuse or both.”
Even so, they can pick up litter.
“Why not employ the homeless to help?” was the question asked in an Amarillo Globe-News editorial opinion August 31, 2016.
Answering their own question, the editorial board opined, “There are layers of government bureaucracy (city and state) that could make such an initiative difficult (not to mention liability issues) but certainly the homeless could be paid to remove the trash and associated debris that hides in tall grass and weeds.”
Two months later, in October, Amarillo’s City Council approved the work program.
Amarillo’s mayor had read an article out of Albuquerque recognizing that city’s national acclaim for its “There’s A Better Way” model of addressing homelessness.
Begun with an allocation of $50,000 late in 2015, Albuquerque just six months later increased that to $181,000.
During that time, according to Albuquerque’s website, “over 6,700 people have been connected to services they may not have known about previously; 426 day jobs have been offered; 92 city blocks have been cleaned with over 41,000 pounds of trash and debris cleared.”
Since its inception other cities – “most recently Seattle” – and towns have inquired of Mayor Berry’s office to see how the program can be adapted to their community.
“National press on the program has spread rapidly with features on ‘NBC Nightly News’, ‘PBS Newshour’, ‘NY Times’, ‘Governing Magazine’, and viral success with cumulative 9.5 million views on ‘Upworthy.com’ video highlighting the program.”
Twenty-eight pages of Lakewood’s November 9, 2015 agenda was dedicated to the homeless issue.
“Homeless people with high needs, e.g. currently living in their cars or on the street . . . will be directed immediately to emergency shelter” (p.39).
“Rapidly re-housing those who become homeless,” (p.51) is “Tacoma, Lakewood and Pierce County’s plan to end homelessness.”
As one of the “major reasons and causes for homelessness as documented by many reports and studies” (first listed in fact) is the unavailability of employment opportunities, the “There’s a Better Way” concept that’s catching on across America could very well work here.