The city of Little Rock, Arkansas, has come up with a unique way to address issues with both its homeless community as well as trash in its streets, and the results have been successful.
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The Bridge to Work program, which began in April, pays members of the homeless community $9.25 an hour to clean up litter from its city streets. That's more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
The program was initially supposed to last only six months, but Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said last month he would push to extend it through the end of September 2020.
The City of Little Rock spent $80,000 on the program's first six months, 12 News Now reports. The program has been run by Canvas Community Church.
"We’re super excited about what has gone on, and we hope to be able to keep the momentum going,” pastor Paul Atkins said, according to 12 News Now.
Those who participate in the program also receive mental and physical health services, help with job interviews and temporary housing. The goal isn’t necessarily spotless streets; it’s an opportunity for people to turn their fortunes around.
“We want to work with them on their next step," Atkins told the city's board of directors last month. "There are a lot of barriers that our people experience to go from homelessness and panhandling to full-time work. There’s a lot of steps in between.”
According to Atkins, upwards of 380 people have participated in the program to date, with a many joining the work crews more than once.
The participants work in groups of eight, with most of them joining the program through the church. However, the teams leave at least one opening on the team should they encounter a panhandler on the cleaning route, with 44 out of 158 panhandlers encountered accepting the opportunity to work.
Since the program started five months ago, a total of 130 sites have been cleaned, with 1,821 hours worked, and 2,056 bags of trash and debris removed from city streets.