A jobs-first approach to ending homelessness deserves support from the business community.
NEXT time you see people in orange vests cleaning the streets in downtown Seattle, consider this: There’s a chance they slept in a tent the night before.
Some are recipients of an innovative and inspiring new project to directly connect homeless people with a job. A partnership between United Way, the Millionair Club and the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) is a new path out of the region’s homeless crisis, one paycheck at a time.
The program, called Jobs Connect, is a jobs-first approach to ending homelessness, building on the notion that steady paid work provides dignity. United Way of King County borrowed the model from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and launched it last week with a labor pool cultivated by the Millionair Club, a 96-year-old nonprofit with a history of providing day labor.
“If you want to get out of your current situation and get housing and a job, you need a work history,” said Cary Caulkins, the Millionair Club’s business development director.
DSA’s Clean Team street-cleanup service is the first employer, offering seven jobs a day.
On a recent morning, Keegan Stanley picked up trash at the corner of First Avenue and University Street. He camped in Discovery Park the night before and packed up at 3 a.m. to walk the five miles to the Millionair Club’s Belltown office. By nine, he was in an orange vest and green gloves, earning about $13 an hour. He’d been on the job more than a week.
Stanley said he was 37 years old, from Chicago, and was homeless because the housing that he’d counted on when moving to Seattle a few months ago had fallen through. He also had a bike and wallet stolen and was nervous about losing his tent.
“I’ve seen it bad elsewhere, but this wasn’t what I expected. The number of homeless out here is staggering,” said Stanley.
Jobs Connect is looking to expand, and there’s no shortage of homeless people who could use a job. Employers looking to do the right thing should step up.
The Millionair Club has had astonishing success as a temporary labor provider, supplying hundreds of workers for concessions at CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field.
As Stanley swept the street, his supervisor, in a bright green vest, worked nearby. He’d been in a similar situation as Stanley more than a year ago. He started out as a temp worker for DSA, then was hired full time. He now has a steady job, and a home.