New pilot program to offer daily jobs, transport to Anchorage homeless population

Published: May. 12, 2016 at 5:50 PM AKDT
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Turning panhandlers into employees, it’s the goal of a new pilot program to give jobs to the homeless residents of Anchorage, one day at a time.

“Like work for just one day? And get paid? I’d do that,” said William Olsen, a panhandler who was sitting in a South Anchorage parking lot. “I actually would like that. It would be better than doing this, you know what I mean? At least I could take care of myself.”

That’s what Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is counting on. Berkowitz says the jobs would be mostly manual outside labor.

“Cleaning up camps, picking up trash, things associated with the homelessness issue,” he said outside City Hall on Thursday. “I think it's really important to make sure that people feel part of the solution, not just part of the problem.”

Starting at the beginning of June, a van will drive the Anchorage streets and approach panhandlers about working for the day. The jobs will pay about $1.50 above the minimum wage, or about $10 an hour.

“I think that's one of the frustrations that people have if you see people on street corners, or congregated in areas who look like they could be working and making the streets cleaner, the camps cleaner... you just gotta go ask them,” Mayor Berkowitz said.

There are already programs in Anchorage that aim to connect the homeless community with employment, particularly through Catholic Social Services. CSS director Lisa Aquino says that the people utilizing those services aren’t necessarily the people who are living out on the streets.

“I think that this is really targeting a different group of people,” Aquino says, “not necessarily people that are seeking our services now.”

About $100,000.00 allocated by the Anchorage Assembly will go towards the program. That money is coming from over $500,000.00 the assembly has already dedicated to the homelessness issue.

Berkowitz says it’s part of the path towards ending the cycle of homelessness in Anchorage.

“To the extent that we can help create an incentive out of homeless, and a pathway out of homelessness, we'll have changed the paradigm. We'll have changed the way things work,” he said