New city program helps homeless, cleans parks

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Photo Credit: Rena Li | Daily Texan Staff

The homeless population surrounding campus now has an outlet to earn extra cash and find permanent shelter due to a new city program, Workforce First.

The City of Austin worked with a local nonprofit, The Other Ones Foundation, to create a program that pays homeless individuals for collecting trash in public parks. According to Chris Baker, the foundation’s director, the city has employed roughly fifty homeless people who have collectively worked over 800 hours since its implementation in October. 

Baker said participants are paid at a rate of $15 an hour. Baker said they also receive free lunch, transportation and support services, such as housing connections and bank accounts.

“Our goal as an organization is to build a community in which people are able to transition out of homelessness,” Baker said. 

Workforce First is primarily funded by the Austin Public Health Department and The Other Ones Foundation. Baker said these funds are used to pay the homeless and provide equipment for their services.

“We kind of built the program to be a really low-barrier employment opportunity for people that are experiencing homelessness or people that are recently exited from homelessness,” Baker said.

Baker said they recruit people through street outreach, word-of-mouth and recommendations from other nonprofits. He said participants can work as long as they need to, but the program is designed to help them prepare for more stable employment.

“I’m really, really proud of the work that our staff is doing and the guys that are working in the program are doing,” Baker said. “Our wildest expectations for what these folks were going to be able to actually get done has just been exceeded.”

Robert Taylor, 61, identifies as homeless and works three days a week in the program. Taylor said he is happy that his work helps improve public parks and The City of Austin.

“We want to impact the community in a positive way,” Taylor said. “We want to be givers to the stream of life, not takers.”

Earlier this year, Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition estimated 2,147 homeless persons in Austin, indicating a five percent increase from 2017’s count of 2,036 persons.

Human biology sophomore Alan Martinez is the founder of Friends of Street Youth at UT-Austin, an organization that aids homeless youth. Martinez said he plans on recommending the program to the homeless people he meets through his organization.

“It seems like it has the potential to make a lot of people more proud of Austin as a whole,” Martinez said. “We’ll be able to lower the homeless population hopefully by doing this, and make our parks look nicer.”

Taylor said this opportunity to work means a lot more to him than just cleaner parks and short-term benefits.

“It has helped me restore my dignity and my self-worth by giving me something to do and a direction to go,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot of gratitude here on my end.”