New Program Provides Jobs for Homeless

| March 5, 2018 | 0 Comments

For all of us who live in San Diego, it’s very obvious that the homeless situation has gotten increasingly worse. The number of homeless encampments has grown substantially and the locations around the city and county have become more obvious. Hillcrest business owners and residents recently shared with me that they are very concerned about the impact it is having on the quality of life for residents and visitors to the area. Balboa Park and other city parks are regarded differently due to the recent Hepatitis A outbreak. Playgrounds and park restrooms are no longer considered safe for guests and visitors.

So, what do we do?

I learned personally the challenges of attempting to improve the life of a homeless person. A homeless woman who I will refer to as Carol contacted me through the newspaper. She had seen an article I had written on caring for our fellow San Diegans and noticed a “soft spot” in my personality.

What I learned is that I am vulnerable.

After over a year of providing her free housing, I realized that she didn’t need a “handout” that I had gifted her. She needed a program that would set boundaries and provide structure. She needed tough love.

The Alpha Project, which is run by Bob McElroy, is an organization that I have always considered a place of change for people who have gone through some serious life challenges, including drug and alcohol addiction. The Alpha Project has been successful at getting people back from recovery and re-entering the workforce.

This past week, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilmember Scott Sherman introduced the beginning of a new program run by the Alpha Project called “Wheels of Change.” It’s objective is to provide day jobs for interested homeless individuals in the City of San Diego.

According to an announcement I received, the program is identified as “simple.” Two days a week a van will pick up homeless people who express an interest in working. The van will drive to a designated site to pick up trash, pull weeds, clear brush, and do other activities for five hours. At the end of the day, workers will be driven back to Alpha Project, or the City’s tent structures for the homeless, and will be compensated for their work.

In addition to giving individuals work opportunities, the Wheels of Change program is designed to connect them with important services and help assist with transitioning to permanent housing.

The program, I learned, is based on Albuquerque’s “There’s a Better Way” program which started as a six-month pilot program, but now has two vans that run five days a week and employs up to 20 homeless individuals a day. Over a dozen cities have implemented a similar program including Austin, Chicago, Denver, Lexington, Portland and Seattle.

“This is all about creating more opportunities for homeless individuals to lift themselves out of extreme poverty,” Mayor Faulconer said. Wheels for Change will help restore dignity by allowing people to earn a paycheck and begin to get back on their feet. For many this may be just the chance they need to begin turning their lives around.”

I was told that since the program in Albuquerque began, over 3,400 homeless received jobs, 368 individuals connected with employment services and obtained additional work, over 175,000 pounds of trash was removed, and 600 neighborhood blocks were cleaned.

“An important step to a successful transition out of homelessness is re-exposure to the dignity of work. The Wheels of Change program provides the opportunity to participate in this confidence building experience,” said Councilmember Sherman.

According to Bob McElroy, “We are looking forward to starting this program and giving the clients the ability to make a difference in the local community.”

Since this is a test pilot, because the first six months of the program have been funded by a generous private donor, we should closely observe its success after three-to-four months. Obviously, we can all agree that we want it to succeed because none of us want anyone to be homeless. This is a hand up, not a handout.

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