Homeless People in Downtown San Diego Get $2 a Bag to Pick Up Trash Around Their Encampments

by on March 16, 2022 · 0 comments

in Homelessness, San Diego

Houseless people in downtown San Diego are getting $2 a bag to pick up trash in their neighborhood to earn a little cash as part of a new pilot program.

Retired attorney Brian Trotier handed out the cash as part of a pilot program he created called the Triangle Project which comes from the downtown triangular areas the project covers, one bordered by 16th Street, Commercial Street and National Avenue and the other bordered by 17th Street, Logan Avenue and Commercial Street.

Trotier had been handing out food in the neighborhood for the past couple of years as a volunteer with a program funded by the Lucky Duck Foundation. While talking with people living in tents on the street and noticing the trash on sidewalks and gutters, he wondered if there was something more he could do. “I got to know some people and heard some conversations that made me scratch my head about why we weren’t doing certain things,” he said.

One of the people he talked to was Richard Horton, 67, who has been living in a makeshift shelter on Commercial Street since losing his job three years ago. “He said, ‘We’d love to clean up the area, but we don’t have any place to throw the trash,’” Trotier said.

Trotier also had noticed that there were few trash cans in the neighborhood, and over the past several weeks he began putting together a plan. He contacted the waste disposal company EDCO, who agreed to set up a large bin in the neighborhood on Mondays and Thursdays.

Lucky Duck agreed to provide $20,000 to fund the program over four months. Drew Moser, executive director of the Lucky Duck Foundation, said they saw the Triangle Project as an opportunity to give homeless people an opportunity to contribute to the cleanliness of their surroundings but added that the philanthropic organization also advocates for more short-term, immediate strategies such as shelters to move people off the street.

The program was launched Monday, March 7 and 81 bags were filled by about 20 people, Trotier said.

The effectiveness of the program will be evaluated after four months, and Trotier said it may continue in some way with additional funding. He also hopes it will raise awareness that more trash cans are needed in the area.

In another outcome, he said the city may cut back on regular sidewalk cleanings if people in encampments keep their areas clean themselves, which could save some tax dollars and make life easier on the people on the street who have to move their tents each week.

Horton said that would be a welcome relief, as his encampment includes a few tents, bicycles, a generator and many other items.

[Much of the above comes from a report in the SD U-T by reporter Gary Warth.]

Now, this is a great idea — but it’s not new.

The city of Elk Grove in California began paying its homeless population in gift cards to grocery stores for cleaning up their encampments back in April 2021.

Elk Grove launched the program funded by The Cares Act and the U.S. Department of Housing And Urban Development to address complaints of trash in the city and to form better relationships with the homeless population, CBS Sacramento reported.

“We got together to talk about homelessness, and from my prospective I wanted to build better relationships with people who were experience homelessness, and he wanted to address some of the complaints that come to his officers,” Sarah Bontrager, the city’s housing and public services manager, told CNN, referring to one of the city’s police sergeants.

Officers give the homeless trash bags and stop by every two weeks to pick them up. A homeless person can earn up to a $20 grocery store gift card if they have their trash bag filled up.

The gift card allows them to buy anything at a grocery store besides alcohol and cigarettes. Bontrager said many of the homeless are using the gift cards for food and hygiene products.

The program is also saving the city thousands of dollars. “We’d go there, it would just be a massive mess, we’d spend hours just cleaning and cleaning, but now we go there and their bags are ready,” Elk Grove Police Department Homeless Outreach Officer Jennifer McCue said.

Up in Oakland, California, there’s a city-funded program run by Downtown Streets Team, a California-based nonprofit, that was giving stipends to homeless residents to pick up trash around the city. The program provided homeless volunteers with gloves, bags, pickers, dustpans and carts and sent themr to different parts of Oakland to clean up trash on sidewalks and in the park.  The “volunteers” received a $120-a-week stipend.

The pandemic has financially stressed millions of Americans, and homelessness has increased. As state and local officials struggle to deal with this, some are investing in programs employing people who don’t have jobs or homes while beautifying streets and neighborhoods.

Some cities are investing tens—or even hundreds—of thousands of dollars in such programs during the pandemic, including Fort Worth, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Pueblo, Colorado, and Tacoma, Washington.

Participants are considered volunteers who take two- to four-hour shifts on two, three or five days a week and work with a case manager and employment specialist. They receive $100 to $300 a week, usually in the form of a gift card for groceries, clothing or other basic needs. The program doesn’t pay cash or by check, but it will pick up the tab for cell phone bills or storage units. Those involved in the fellowship program get paid directly—$17.19 an hour. The program lasts for 90 days and then tries to hire them full-time or get them placed in jobs.

Since the program began in Palo Alto in 2005, more than 1,200 participants have gotten full-time jobs, and about the same number have received housing.

Other cities have success stories as well:

  • Portland, Oregon, the city launched a one-year pilot program in February 2021 in partnership with Ground Score, a nonprofit that pays homeless people to pick up trash. As of late August the program had employed 72 workers who collected more than 60,000 pounds of trash.Workers get paid $20 an hour; coordinators, who work full-time, get paid $25 an hour. Workers often are sent to pick up trash at homeless encampments, which are scattered across the city, but also remove litter in other areas.
  • Fort Worth, Texas, has a $500,000-a-year contract for a litter cleanup program with UpSpire, a program operated by the Presbyterian Night Shelter, a homeless service provider. Workers get paid $10 to $12 an hour to start. Seventeen workers are now employed full-time under the city contracts, and get benefits such as health care and 401(k) matches, as well as housing support.
  • In California, the Bakersfield Homeless Center has employed more than 300 people for its litter cleanup program on highways and city streets since 2013, said Andrew Miles, the labor development manager.

Pew Research Center

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