As of Oct. 25, the city of San Jose has partnered up with the Downtown Streets Team and Goodwill to create a program that would employ the homeless to clean litter off the streets. Having received a grant of $200,000, the program will pay over 25 homeless residents at least $15 an hour to work at 40 litter hotspots throughout the city.
Beginning in November, the program will select participants to work four to five hours a day in areas littered with trash and debris such as Camden, Almaden Road, Snell Avenue and Blossom Hill. The job is not permanent, the plan’s main purpose is to help the homeless transition back into working full-time. With a homeless population of over 4,300, San Jose’s goal is to provide the homeless an opportunity to obtain enough money to get into housing and find a job while contributing value to the community. According to The Mercury News, Mayor Sam Liccardo mentioned that when people see litter on the streets, they dismiss the homeless as the problem, so he wants to prove that the homeless residents can and want to become part of the solution.
The program not only wants to help the homeless get back on their feet, but also to provide them with a sense of purpose. 63-year-old Mercy Wong has been searching for a home in San Jose for five months. “It really helps us to be strong with ourselves, because I have a very low self-esteem. They help me lift myself up and be responsible, be a good worker and be just who I am,” said Wong, according to an interview done by KTVU Fox.
In some areas like the pavement along Monterey Road, the amount of debris is so great that residents like Tom Malech have complained about spotting a different pile of trash every 100 feet. In regards to this issue, the program was created as a part of the #BeautifySJ movement, which was issued by Liccardo in 2017 in an attempt to clean up the city. Other events in this movement include weekly neighborhood cleanups, the covering of graffiti-tagged walls with murals and the expansion of a free residential pickup service.
“The littering laws in San Jose are not enforced as they should be, which makes it challenging to prevent the issue from growing. This program may not prevent littering, but at least it is working to improve conditions on the streets. If the homeless are able to inspire others to do the same and pick up after themselves, they will prove that this is a program worth investing in,” Junior Rhea Khincha said.
While the homeless residents will be paid $15.00, more than San Jose’s minimum wage of $13.50 an hour, critics claim that even if the participants work full time, the pay is not enough to afford a living due to the cost of housing. As one of the least affordable metropolitan regions in the country, San Jose’s one-bedroom apartments cost an average of $2,364 a month. That would take around 43 days worth of cleaning to cover.
“Although the pay may not be enough to afford a living in San Jose, this job still gives the homeless a chance to earn some money, which is usually not an option for many due to the difficulties of the employment process. It gives them hope because they have money to work off of and are just that much closer to finding housing as opposed to starting out with no money at all,” Sophomore Travis Nguyen said.
Other cities in the U.S. like Fort Worth, Albuquerque and San Diego have already implemented similar programs. Two years after Albuquerque’s “There’s a Better Way” program launched in May 2015, 3,400 homeless people have removed 175,000 pounds of trash and cleaned 600 neighborhood blocks, and 365 participants were connected with employment services to find work. In Fort Worth’s Clean Slate program, 40 homeless residents were hired and they cleaned up 3,856 tons of trash.
If Liccardo can demonstrate that the 25-people pilot is effective, the limited size of the program will expand. In addition, the work hours will increase from four or five hours a day to eight. The program is set to end in June, but depending on results, Liccardo is hopeful that the program will be extended so that it will be able to help transform even more lives.