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Austin’s homeless are being paid $15 an hour to clean up the city

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Homelessness and unemployment goes hand in hand. Without a permanent address it’s almost impossible to find employment and for those living rough it’s often difficult to look presentable enough to be given an opportunity. In the United States, an estimated 553,000 people were homeless of which 194,000 had no shelter in 2018, according to HUD.

The city of Austin, Texas took action September last year with a pilot project to employ their homeless population through the non-profit, The Other Ones Foundation  (TOOF) whose mission statement, ‘’Transitioning Austin’s homeless neighbors into an engaged community through shelter, opportunity, and support,’’ gives hope to those in need.

TOOF provides employment opportunities, without the usual red tape such as the requirement of a permanent address and the work include ‘large-scale environmental clean-up, subsidized housing improvements, maintaining public art and sheltered animal enrichment’, according to their website.

Employees are paid $15 an hour and provided with lunch and transportation to the worksite as well as free and voluntary case management services with the aim of getting them into permanent employment and housing.

Thanks to TOOF, Austin’s homeless now also has access to showers, food, internet, laundry and day sleep facilities at a property called The Golden Road.

Over $100,000 in earned income was paid out in under a year and 24 of those working with the program has since moved into established housing.

Earlier this month Austin City Council members earmarked a further $720,000 for Family Eldercare Inc, which oversees TOOF, that’s over seven times the amount provided for the pilot program.

“We definitely knocked their socks off with what we were able to do with that,” Chris Baker, the foundation’s executive director told the Statesman.

Council Member Leslie Pool called the program “transformational.”

“I think we can all agree that the program represents the kind of solution-based and holistic work that we as a community need to do on the homelessness issue,” she said.

Baker explained that work crews go out every weekday, and often weekends, doing anything from scrubbing graffiti to cleaning up homeless camps.

“There are way more people who want to work than we can get on the job site,” Baker said. He hopes the new funding will help increase the workers from the 150 people who have already participated in the program

“This program is playing a critical role in our city’s coordinated homelessness response system, not just by getting people off of street corners and onto job sites, but by instilling in them a sense of hope, dignity and self-worth that’s often lost in the chaos and isolation of the streets,” Baker added.

“This is not only about people earning a dignified income; it’s about being a force for positive change in the lives of our homeless neighbors. By offering the opportunity to be of service to their community, we see them becoming engaged and proud members of that community.”  

Mayor Steve Adler urged leaders in Public Health and in Parks and Recreation to work with the program and expand it to underpasses and other areas.

“We want to have a comprehensive conversation where we have all city partners at the table, and we are prioritizing specific areas, but we’re also making the best use of the resources that we have right now,” he said.

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