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Posts Tagged ‘community service’

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Photo: Erin Clark for The Boston Globe
Cities as different as Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Providence, Rhode Island, are paying people experiencing homelessness to do maintenance of public spaces. In the photo, two men are cleaning up gardens along the Back Cove Trail in Portland, Maine.

Three cheers for cities that come up with creative ways to address homelessness! I’ve written about the practice of offering public-service work to people experiencing homelessness in New Mexico and Rhode Island. Now a city in Maine is testing the concept.

Brian MacQuarrie writes at the Boston Globe, “Seven men, stooped and sweating, tear fistfuls of crabgrass and milkweed from a tangle of overgrowth in a large public garden. It’s dirty work for $10.90 an hour, the minimum wage in Maine’s largest city, but there’s not a complaint to be heard.

“ ‘People are always coming by and telling us, “Thanks for helping — it’s looking good,” ’ says Jeff Vane, 49, standing knee-deep in urban brush. …

“Portland officials are inviting panhandlers to put away their signs and put on a pair of work gloves. They clean parks, beautify public gardens, and even place flags at the graves of veterans in exchange for a small paycheck and a possible path to better, lasting employment.

“ ‘It makes you feel good about yourself, makes you feel that you’ve still got it,’ Frank Mello, 49, says of the job. ‘It shows I’m not the homeless bum that people think I am.’

“Portland’s program, nearing the end of its second year, is not intended to erase panhandling, city officials say. Some men and women who ‘fly their signs’ at Portland intersections, most of them homeless and desperate for money, will never be persuaded to put them away.

“But it’s an effort that passes legal muster. Both Portland and Worcester, Mass., for example, had banned panhandling with ordinances that were overturned by federal courts, which ruled that they infringed on free speech. …

“Panhandlers are pitched on the program as a way to leave the streets, connect with benefits such as housing vouchers and food stamps, and find work in the future through a day-labor agency that partners with the city. Participation is voluntary — workers can drop out of the Opportunity Crew program at any time. But so far, no one has been asked to leave for failing to do the job or follow the rules.

‘I’ve always kind of believed that if you give someone a hand up, and if they’re so inclined, that’s all they’re asking for,’ City Manager Jon Jennings said in an interview. ‘I just don’t see as many people panhandling now.’

“The Opportunity Crew has a budget of only $40,000 per year, but the benefits go far beyond dollars and cents, city officials said. Through [late August], 281 bags of trash had been collected this year and 121 syringes removed from public spaces, said Aaron Geyer, who supervises the program. A total of 936 hours had been logged by crews of 6 to 10 people who work Wednesdays and Thursdays from April until October

“ ‘They show up on time in the morning, and they’re ready to work,’ Geyer said.

“The cost of a crew is pegged at $1,300 per week, and business sponsors that help pay for the program are promoted on city signs at the cleanup sites. …

“So far, 17 men and women have found jobs after participating in the Portland program, which Jennings said he hopes to expand. …

“Frank Mello [gives] each of his teenage daughters $40 a week from his Opportunity Crew earnings. The children’s mother died three months ago from a heroin overdose, he said.

“ ‘Basically, I’m working for my children. They need me right now,’ Mello said in a gravelly voice, straightening up as sweat poured from his face. …

“ ‘We all know each other, you know,’ Mello said, smiling and nodding toward his fellow panhandlers. ‘Now, we want to work.’ ”

Read more at the Globe, here. A previous blog post on the concept is here.

 

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The Christian Science Monitor recently ran a story by Bryan Kay about an ongoing  community service project.

“Not even the recent furlough of federal workers was enough to snuff out the latest community outreach effort of Masjid al Islam mosque in Dallas.

“On a weekend in early October, the mosque was participating in a national initiative known as the Day of Dignity, an annual event during which mosques feed, clothe, and equip people living in poverty. But federal workers who had been scheduled to attend to speak about the details of the Affordable Care Act …  had been forced to cancel because of a partial federal government shutdown.

“It was a blow to the mosque’s boosters, says Muhammad Abdul-Jami, treasurer of Masjid al Islam and coordinator of the Day of Dignity event. But it didn’t deter them from pursuing the same purpose they have had for the last several years, he says: aiding homeless people … .

“Masjid al Islam is in an area where the homeless are a ubiquitous sight. … Because of the great need every weekend, the mosque seeks to do what the Day of Dignity event, organized in conjunction with the national charity Islamic Relief USA, does on an annual basis. Through its Beacon of Light community center, Masjid al Islam feeds approximately 300 individuals in need on Saturdays and Sundays each week, Mr. Abdul-Jami estimates. That’s more than 15,000 meals per year, paid for with donations from individuals and other mosques and served by volunteers, he says. …

” ‘There are millions of Muslims in this country who are very regular people, people who [other] Americans might consider much like them,’ Abdul-Jami says. …  ‘These events help us showcase that we are concerned about the rest of humanity, not just wanting to help Muslims.’ ”

Read more here.

Photo: Walid Ajaj

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