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Independence hopes its street clean-up can put homeless people to work and on a path to housing

A man uses pushes a 55-gallon, yellow trash bin on wheels with his left hand while holding an aluminum grabbing tool in his right hand. He is walking along a sidewalk near a city street.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Greg Alexander collects trash along Noland Road on Tuesday morning in Independence as part of the city's partnership with Community Service League to hire people experiencing homelessness to collect litter.

The city started Monday paying $12 an hour to people experiencing unstable housing to collect litter from some of the city's main thoroughfares. Workers will also get additional money to save toward future housing.

Independence, Missouri, officials have hired homeless people to pick up trash — aiming to give them work experience and a start on saving toward housing..

“This … is really that critical employment piece that makes a bridge from unsheltered to permanent housing,” said Doug Cowan, the president of Community Services League.

Independence is partnering with the Community Services League to hire people in housing crises for $12 an hour to collect litter along some of the city’s main thoroughfares. An additional $3 an hour will go toward the part-time workers’ housing savings fund.

Independence modeled the idea on similar programs across the country, including the Clean-Up Crew at Hope Faith Homeless Assistance Camps in Kansas City.

“We’ve learned from those before us,” he said. “How can we solve problems in our community with creative solutions?”

Cowan said the program hopes beautify the city with people who often can’t sustain full-time employment.

“For some people,” he said, “they’ve been out of the workforce for a long time.”

Cowen said the work requires walking several miles along the roadways. He said workers will start with four-hour shifts and gradually work up to eight hours a day.

“If they're not able to, to walk very far, we can work with them and build up their capacity to be successful,” he said. “We're all about breaking down barriers to employment.”

A woman uses an aluminum grabbing tool to pick up a piece of trash out of a yard. She is walking on a sidewalk near a city street. She is pushing a 55-gallon, yellow trash bin on wheels.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Marquita James collects trash along Noland Road on Tuesday morning as part of the city's efforts to hire people experiencing homelessness to collect litter in Independence.

Crews started Monday and are scheduled to work a five-day week until September. Five people have been hired with plans of adding to the crew.

Tuesday was Greg Alexander’s first day on the job. He was picking up trash along Noland Road and has been staying in a recovery house.

“I was homeless for three years,” he said. “I was probably one of the ones putting the trash on the ground, you know what I mean. Now I’m giving back and it feels good to pick up the environment.”

Alexander was tugging a rolling trash bin and using an aluminum picker to grab litter. He wore a bright orange safety vest and listened to music while he patrolled the sidewalk.

He said most of the trash he was finding was liquor bottles.

“It feels good, working, for one,” he said. “It puts a little money in my pocket. But it feels better to help pick up.”

The project is budgeted for $100,000 through the American Rescue Plan Act. It runs until Sept. 27 when the Independence City Council will decide whether or not to extend the project.

Mayor Rory Roland said that when he was running for office one of the things he heard over and over was the importance of beautifying the city.

Roland said Harry Truman’s hometown found a way to do that through the program.

“We hope this inspires our residents to help carry the work into their neighborhoods too,” he said. “We don't want to finish here. We want to continue to find new ways and innovative ways to beautify our city.”

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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