In Little Rock, Arkansas the city has found a way to address two of their major problems with one solution: and it started employing many homeless people to clean up the litter.
Telling a homeless person to just ‘get a job,’ isn’t going to help. First of all, consider the first impression, as most people would immediately hire the person who looks the part instead of the one who desperately needs it.
Our biases make it virtually impossible for most homeless people to find stable work.
However, Arkansas is paving the way for other cities, as they struggle to fight this issue.
Namely, the city has a program called “Bridge Work”, and it is paying $9.25 per hour to pick-up garbage from the streets. This hourly rate is $2 more than the national minimum wage of $7.25, which was increased to $9.25 in January of 2019.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr was fascinated by the positive results of the program, so after the sixth-month trial, the program has been extended until September 2020.
Associate pastor Paul Atkins of the Canvas Community Church, which runs the program, pointed out the way the program has successfully impacted the community, as well as the positive influence it has had on those who have participated. He said that they are all very excited about the effects, and they hope to be able to keep the momentum going.
He added that they want to work with the homeless on their next step. There are a lot of barriers that our people experience to go from homelessness and panhandling to full-time work, and there are a lot of steps in between.
“To make the program bigger and better, we do need folks to walk with our friends on a one-on-one basis. I hesitate to call it a mentor thing, cause you’ll probably learn as much as you teach.”
The city has spent about $80,000 on providing work and a source of income to those in need, and it even offers members of the program resources like mental health treatment, job interviews, and even low-income housing.
There are over 380 people currently in the program, and they work in teams of eight. Most sign up through the church, but each team leaves a space open in case a panhandler it encounters on its route wants to join. According to Atkins, 158 panhandlers had been approached and 44 accepted the invitation.
Within the first five months, a total of 130 sites cleaned, 1,821 hours worked, and 2,056 bags of trash, Felecia Cooks, a team leader in the program, says that it is just a dream come true for the entire community.
The public is very positive about the program since it was launched, and people encourage other states to adopt this practice and help the homeless while benefiting the cities and improving the community.