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People living on the streets can now clean up Austin’s parks for an hourly wage

Tuesday, November 27, 2018 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

People experiencing homelessness can now work for the city of Austin.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department, along with Austin Public Health, The Other Ones Foundation and City Council Member Ellen Troxclair, highlighted the pilot program Monday in South 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 cleaning up local parks.

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 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 an additional roughly $30,000 coming from The Other Ones Foundation, which hires the workers. Private contractors have contributed 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 Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden. “They have opportunities for housing as well, and they have a connection to health resources.”

According to the city, homeless people have worked more than 753 hours 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 to afford rent in the city, but 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.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT.

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