At $15 an hour, home­less help clean up S.J.

New plan will fo­cus on pick­ing up trash and de­bris at more than forty ‘hotspots’

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Emily DeRuy ederuy@ba­yare­anews­group.com

San Jose is home to some beau­ti­ful ar­chi­tec­ture and bril­liant art but also to free­way on-ramps and creek em­bank­ments that are lit­tered with ugly trash and de­bris.

Now, the city is launch­ing a new ef­fort to clean up dirty parts of town, and it’ll help dozens of home­less peo­ple get back on their feet at the same time.

Start­ing in Novem­ber, San Jose will pay more than 25 home­less res­i­dents at least $15 an hour to pick up trash at more than 40 “hotspots” around the city.

“We are work­ing to trans­form lives,” Mayor Sam Lic­cardo said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at Down­town Streets Team’s San Jose of­fice Thurs­day morn­ing to an­nounce the new pro­gram.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion, which works to end home­less­ness, and Good­will will hire and man­age the

work­ers. Nor­mandin Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of­fered steep dis­counts on two trucks to sup­port the ef­fort. The ul­ti­mate goal is to help par­tic­i­pants tran­si­tion into full-time em­ploy­ment.

The lit­ter hotspots iden­ti­fied stretch across the city, from Sen­ter Road near Capi­tol Ex­press­way to Wil­low Street un­der High­way 87 and Mabury Road near In­ter­state 680.

One of the hotspots that crews will pa­trol is around the Tully ball­fields on Tully Road near Galve­ston Av­enue, where Lit­tle League fam­i­lies have com­plained re­cently about an in­creas­ingly un­safe en­vi­ron­ment. A num­ber of home­less peo­ple live near Coy­ote Creek, which runs along­side the ball­fields, and the area is of- ten strewn with lit­ter.

Jonathan Flem­ing, pres­i­dent of the nearby Sen­ter Mon­terey Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­a­tion, said he’s “ex­tremely ex­cited” about the new pro­gram.

Flem­ing, who pro­posed a sim­i­lar idea ear­lier this year as part of an un­suc­cess­ful bid for a seat on the City Coun­cil, said he be­lieves the pro­gram will give par­tic­i­pants a sense of pur­pose. And he’s hope­ful work­ers who clear de­bris from the area can talk with res­i­dents of the nearby en­camp­ments and en­cour­age them to help keep the area clean by gath­er­ing their trash to­gether rather than al­low­ing it to lit­ter the ground.

“I’m very op­ti­mistic and hope­ful that it will help,” Flem­ing said.

In ad­di­tion to help­ing beau­tify San Jose and giv­ing the city’s home­less res­i­dents an op­por­tu­nity to work, Lic­cardo said the pro- gram is an ef­fort to “change the nar­ra­tive.”

Too of­ten, peo­ple see trash on road­sides or creek em­bank­ments and place blame solely on home­less peo­ple, the mayor said, when “the fact is, it comes from many sources.” Chris­tine Gon­za­lez, a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic- tim who lost her home af­ter bat­tling a drug ad­dic­tion and spend­ing years couch surf­ing, com­pleted an ap­pli­ca­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram. Gon­za­lez said she’s been vol­un­teer­ing with Down­town Streets Team for sev­eral years — and re­ceiv­ing gift cards for ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties in re­turn— but ap­pre­ci­ates the op­por­tu­nity to earn a pay­check.

“You don’t re­al­ize how hard it is to get back on your feet,” Gon­za­lez said. “It will give back con­fi­dence and self- es­teem.”

The pro­gram will ini­tially be funded through a $200,000 lit­ter abate­ment grant ap­proved by the City Coun­cil ear­lier this year, but there’s no set end date and of­fi­cials would like to see the pro­gram con­tinue.

“We­want to see this pi­lot be suc­cess­ful,” said Chris Richard­son of Down­town Streets Team.

Tr­ish Dorsey, vice pres­i­dent of mis­sion ser­vices at Good­will of Sil­i­con Val­ley, said the pro­gram will cre­ate a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment to help peo­ple tran­si­tion back into work­ing.

“Good­will’s mis­sion aligns per­fectly with the mayor’s ini­tia­tive by giv­ing peo­ple a hand up ver­sus a hand out,” Dorsey said.

Ger­ald Cai­son, who has also ex­pe­ri­enced home­less­ness, thinks the new pro­gramwill help peo­ple build up a sense of in­tegrity.

“What’s hap­pen­ing now,” Cai­son said, “it gives you hope.”

STAFF FILE PHOTO

A wo­man walks to­ward friends at a home­less en­camp­ment next to High­way 101 and In­ter­state 280in San Jose in Fe­bru­ary.

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