People experiencing homelessness can now work for the City of Austin.
The city's Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Austin Public Health Department, The Other Ones Foundation and Austin City Council Member Ellen Troxclair highlighted the pilot program Monday in southeast Austin.
Joe Pacheco, 51, who's been living on the streets, is currently working for the program. At Mabel Davis Park Monday, he picked up pieces of plastic and paper strewn about the park.
Pacheco said he makes $15 an hour cleaning up local parks as part of the City of Austin program. Since Oct. 15, a local nonprofit has hired 49 people experiencing homelessness to work for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“They’re helping us clean up our parks or remove graffiti and really beautifying our city,” said Austin City Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who brought the idea to the full council in 2017. “And in return, they receive cash payment.”
The city has contributed $58,000 to the program, with another roughly $30,000 coming from The Other Ones Foundation, which hires the workers. Private contractors have contributed another several thousand dollars.
Troxclair said she got the idea from a similar program started in Albuquerque in 2015, where people experiencing homelessness are offered jobs for day laborers at a rate of $9 an hour.
“We’re striving to give people opportunity and through that dignity and through that dignity, a little bit of self-esteem, self-respect, self-worth,” said Chris Baker, the director of The Other Ones Foundation.
In addition to earning money, participants are fed lunch and get the chance to connect with social services and organizations that could provide housing.
“So, when they’re ready to move to the next phase, then they have employment opportunities,” said Director of Austin Public Health Stephanie Hayden. “They have opportunities for housing, as well, and they have a connection to health resources.”
According to the city, more than 753 hours have been worked since the program started more than a month ago and workers have cleared trash and weeds from nearly a mile of trails in city parks.
Pacheco said he spends his earnings on clothes and medicine for his allergies. Sometimes, he gives the money to a friend. He hasn’t yet earned enough money to afford rent in the city, but Pacheco said he’s on a local nonprofit’s waitlist for housing.
“It’s the hardest thing to do is trying to find a place to put your head down,” he said.