Kansas City announced a new project that creates jobs for houseless individuals, providing them job experience while also cleaning up area neighborhoods. Clean Up KC, a one-year pilot program pays individuals dealing with housing instability a livable wage to clean up blighted areas in the city. 

The program partners Hope Faith Ministries and Creative Innovative, two local nonprofit, outreach programs with KC Public Works to provide resources for individuals trying to get back on their feet. The program currently employs 15 individuals that work a minimum of 25 hours a week and are paid a minimum of $15 an hour. The program is funded through a $300,000 investment from the city to cover the cost of the employee salaries and resources provided by the nonprofits.

Along with providing employment and fair wages the program also offers wrap-around services for individuals who might be dealing with substance abuse or medical issues.  If needed, the program can help individuals obtain necessary documents for employment such as identification, birth certificates, and social security cards.

Doug Lagner, director of Hope Faith Ministries, said the program is a valuable resource to an individual that is working to reach long-term, full-time employment.

“What makes me excited is that this is a step,” Lagner said. “It’s not the silver bullet. But it’s a step and it’s been able to work with people that have already been working for that second chance.”

Employees within the program are responsible for cleaning up trash and debris in neighborhoods where encampments might be located and snow removal in the winter months. They are supervised by Public Works Department employees

Anton Washington, executive director for Creative Innovative, said the program is designed to be a stepping stone with the goal of securing long-term, full-time employment.

“This gives us an opportunity to be able to utilize and employ unhoused individuals that are facing hardships to get them out of the rut they are in,” Washington said. “So along with getting them back on the right track it also basically gives them an opportunity to become more of a stable citizen and go onto a career or trade.”

While the duration of employment with the Clean Up KC program is still being finalized, the Public Works Department has partnered with the Full Employment Council to give individuals that are ready for full-time employment job opportunities. 

Michael Parks, Director of the Public Works Department, said he hopes the opportunities for full-time employment can help cut down on the vacant positions within the Public Works Department.

“With some of the job shortages, there are opportunities once they become stabilized,” Parks said. “They can go to Full Employment Council to get other job training that helps them be work ready to actually move back into the workforce.”

But in order to be able to reach full-time employment a lot relies on an individual’s housing stability. 

While Clean Up KC works to address providing full-time employment one major issue that still is unaddressed is the need for stable housing for individuals in the program. Both, Hope Faith and Creative Innovative, do not provide housing, so a majority of Clean Up KC employees are still experiencing housing instability while they are employed in the program.

“Here’s the reality, of the five we started with, one gentleman still sleeps in his car,” Lagner said. “Then three are what I would call couch surfing, and then we have one that also sleeps in an encampment.”

Kansas City’s Zero KC plan, recently introduced by Mayor Quinton Lucas and the Houseless Task Force, proposes a comprehensive plan with policies aimed at ending homelessness. A main component of the plan is creating more affordable housing, but how remains a divisive issue among housing advocates and city officials.

While Clean Up KC might not be a solution to ending all homelessness, the program has created positive change since its inception. 

Lagner said recently an employee was able to secure an apartment in part due to her ability to show she’s employed, which is an enormous barrier for someone transitioning off the street. She will begin moving in stable housing soon.

“She’s going to be in an apartment and they asked, ‘Are you working? Do you have income?’” Langner said. “And now she can say ‘yes.’’ She’s that much closer to getting there.”

Jacob Martin covered news that focuses on housing and equality issues in Kansas City. Prior to joining our team, he worked as a general assignments reporter with KCUR in Kansas City. A Louisville, Kentucky...