The number of homeless Americans is on the rise for the first time in seven years.
But in at least one US city, homeless people are being put to work, giving them stable employment — and having one huge side effect on the places some have made their temporary homes: it’s making city streets cleaner.
In Fort Worth, Texas, 40 homeless people have been given jobs as street cleaners, which has helped remove 3,856 tons of trash from the street, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reports.
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“We want a clean neighborhood that speaks hope, that speaks dignity to our homeless guests,” the CEO of the Presbyterian Night Shelter, Toby Owen, told NBC. “And it also provides income for these individuals so they can move out and be successful without living in a homeless shelter.”
The program, aptly named “Clean Slate,” is paid for by the city of Fort Worth (it cost just $48,000 in 2017), and run by the shelter, according to the report. In addition to a $10 per hour salary, which is 25% higher than the state minimum wage, it provides workers with paid vacation and benefits.
Fort Worth isn’t the first US city to pilot a program of this nature.
According to Newsweek, Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; and Portland, Maine, all similarly hire homeless people to municipal jobs. Last year, Los Angeles also piloted a program that pays homeless people to pick up trash.
Homelessness rose for the first time since 2010 last year, affecting more than half a million people across the country, according to US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) population data. In many cities, such as New York, women are more likely than men to be homeless, according to the data.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson attributed the rise in homelessness to rising rents and stagnant wages, with the majority of the uptick coming in western states, but said that the government should not be the only entity tasked with ending homelessness.
“We just need to move a little bit away from the concept that only the government can solve this problem by throwing more money at it,” Carson said.
Oftentimes, however, state and local governments have been at the forefront of providing critical services for people experiencing homelessness.
In Hawaii, which declared a state of emergency for homelessness in 2015, lawmakers are considering a bill that would give homes to the homeless. In San Francisco, which has also seen a rise in homelessness, a nonprofit donated $100 million to the city to as part of the its 10-year plan to end homelessness. And in Utah, one public school in Salt Lake City installed washing machines and showers to benefit students experiencing homelessness.
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According to the NBC report, Fort Worth hopes to expand the “Clean Slate” program in 2018, setting a prime example for other cities with large and growing homeless populations.