Homeless sweeping streets - a path out of poverty?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 1 Jun 1999 22:46:44 -0700 (PDT)

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Does your community have homeless people sweeping the streets?
What's the pay?
Does such programs help poor people toward living-wage jobs?
How could such programs affect other workers' options for jobs, wages &
Would you recommend similar programs for your community or other places?

See below for a related article:

FWD  San Francisco Examiner - Sunday, May 23, 1999


     Berkeley program for homeless works -- and so do the people

     By Robert Selna - Special to the Exanminer

BERKELEY -- Joe Lane has a long history on the East Bay's streets.

Struggling with a drug and alcohol problem in the early '90s, he slept on
them for more than two years. Thanks to a second chance, he is now in
charge of keeping them clean.

As part of a program founded in 1991, a Berkeley homeless shelter has
supplied the city with workers who sweep the streets while cleaning up
their own lives.

This month, Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean honored Lane and his co-workers for
contributing to the Clean City project, a beautification program that
targets Berkeley's grungiest streets.

"I am really proud of this program, and I think we are the only city doing
something like this," Dean said. "It helps people regain a sense of being
useful and helpful, and gets them on track for the employment market."

The street cleaning program got its start in 1991 with just four people
living at the Berkeley shelter and service center Building Opportunities
For Self-Sufficiency who were hired to help sweep up litter in downtown
Berkeley. The following year, BOSS landed a contract with the city, which
pays sweepers $8-$9 an hour for 35 hours a week.

Winston Burton, economic development director at BOSS, said the program had
since expanded to include Telegraph Avenue and south and west Berkeley.
Burton said out of the 150 homeless individuals who had completed the
program since 1992, most had found jobs at places such as Safeway and Bay
Area MUD and gotten off the streets.

"We are trying to show that people do want to work," Burton said. "We want
to give them some work history, because that is what any employer is
looking for. Without it, you can't get a job."

Lane, a 46-year-old Alameda native with a fourth-grade education, had
worked as a pipe fitter at local shipping yards for 17 years until losing
his job, home, wife and children to a drug addiction. He had not worked in
five years and had lived on the streets for half that time when he stumbled
upon BOSS. After four months with a roof over his head and the counseling
of a case manager, Lane got a job on a street sweeping crew.

"I always liked to work, but I did not know if I could do it. ..... It's
hard to face the fact that you quit on yourself," Lane said.

In a short time Lane realized he could handle the responsibility of working
again. After four months, he was promoted to supervise a five-person crew
scouring downtown Berkeley for trash and debris. Lane also recently talked
to the plumber's union in hopes of getting back to his old line of work.

BOSS Supervisor Adrian Harper said stories like Lane's were not uncommon,
but tried to dispel the notion that the transition from being homeless and
unemployed to a full-time job is an easy one. That's something, he said,
the public sometimes forgets.

Harper said supervisors expected punctuality, hard work, cooperation and a
commitment from workers to stay off drugs and alcohol. They expect some
workers will take longer than others to develop good work habits.

"This is a very public program, and these people have a lot of issues that
the public does not see," Harper said. "The public has to understand that
this is a starting off point for many people; they are relearning behavior."

After living in doorways, under freeways and in shelters for almost two
years, Herman Cleveland, 37, came to BOSS in 1998 with hopes of ending his
addiction to drugs and alcohol.

In his short time as a street sweeper, Cleveland so impressed his employers
and local merchants that he landed a job supervising a street sweeping crew
for the Telegraph Neighborhood Business Association.

Cleveland, who described himself as a "recovering addict," attributes his
quick turnaround to pride in his work and the drug and lifestyle counseling
provided by BOSS.

"You can't use drugs on the job ..... and for a while you are thinking
about it constantly, but going to work everyday and meetings at night
changed that," Cleveland said. "I was able to talk to someone about it."

Anecdotal evidence suggests few cities in the country employ the homeless.
However, because of the recently imposed federal restrictions on welfare
and other social services payments, community groups are increasingly
trying to prepare the indigent for permanent employment, said Ruth
Schwartz, executive director at Shelter Partnership, a Los Angeles-based
homeless advocacy and service organization.

While San Francisco has no program geared toward hiring homeless workers,
in the past six months the city Public Works Department has collaborated
with the League of Urban Gardeners to employ 30-some General Assistance
recipients to clean sidewalks.

"The trend of trying to employ people is picking up," Schwartz said.
"Homeless providers know that they have to do a better job of getting
clients into the work force before welfare reform turns everything upside


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