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San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, center, speaks with workers at the Highway 680 exit at Berryessa Road. Photo courtesy the office of Mayor Sam Liccardo.

San Jose Mayor Expands Trash-picking Program for Homeless

Some San Jose homeless residents could soon have a job that pays nearly $25 an hour.

That’s the announcement that came from Mayor Sam Liccardo on Thursday, Sept. 16, after he expanded the San Jose Bridge program, an initiative that employs homeless residents to pick up trash.

The expansion will make room for up to 100 unhoused workers across a potential 140 sites, nearly double the current number of employees and work sites. For comparison, the program had 71 participants in 2020, 21 of whom were offered full-time gigs. Workers last year cleared about 155 tons of debris.

Employees are allowed to stay in the program until they find permanent work—usually anywhere from two to six months, with job resources to help.

“We are doing all we can to help any of our unhoused residents get back on their feet, working, earning a wage and we hope a path to housing and sustainability in our very expensive community,” Liccardo said Thursday. “We’re going to double the impact of the program so residents are going to see a cleaner city all around them.”

Participants in the expanded program will be paid $23.31 per hour if health benefits are offered or $24.56 per hour without health benefits, depending on what the partner organization decides on.

‘It’s not a boring job’

One participant, Faron Fields, a trained carpenter, said he’s been working with Goodwill in the program since April. A transplant from Houston, Fields moved to San Jose in December after he was hired for what he thought was a carpenter job. When he got to San Jose, he learned the job posting was a scam and the hiring company didn’t exist. Since then, he’s been living in a local homeless shelter. It was there he met representatives from Goodwill who offered him a job with the program as a driver starting at $15 per hour.

“I like the job because you get to view the city and you get to beautify the city, cleaning up tents, picking up trash around the parks,” Fields told San José Spotlight. “It’s not a boring job. I’m honored to be part of the clean-up San Jose movement.”

Fields, now a supervisor with the program, works in areas around the city such as Roosevelt Park, North San Jose and East San Jose.

The city is seeking other nonprofit partners to carry out the expansion. Nonprofits Downtown Streets Team and Goodwill of Silicon Valley currently run the program. Downtown Streets Team was not immediately available for comment.

San Jose Bridge started in 2018 with $200,000 in funding for 25 part-time training positions. Liccardo expanded SJ Bridge in his 2020-21 budget to fund 100 positions through June 30, 2023 using $1.6 million in American Rescue Plan and local funds.

“Hopefully we’re helping to put them on a pathway to even better jobs. We see ourselves as the ramp—getting them ramped from unemployed to employed and building those skills,” Trish Dorsey, vice president of mission services at Goodwill, told San José Spotlight.

Cleaning up the city

Though the plan is ambitious, some of the city’s previous trash programs had rocky starts: A December 2020 San José Spotlight report revealed that Liccardo’s Cash for Trash program hadn’t paid unhoused residents for weeks. On Dec. 19, a day after an inquiry from San José Spotlight, Liccardo went to a homeless encampment at Roosevelt Park and handed out prepaid debit cards to homeless residents who had been waiting to get paid for about five weeks.

Since then, 294 unhoused residents have participated in the Cash for Trash program, removing over 243 tons of trash at 22 locations. Liccardo expanded the program in March to serve 500 unhoused residents. In December, Liccardo is looking to launch another program that employs homeless residents to clean the city’s public bathrooms.

The efforts are part of the city’s larger goal to clean up the city and curb illegal dumping. A bevy of trash-curbing proposals swept through City Hall over the past few years. The city launched an app in 2017 where residents can report, among other things, illegal dumping. In 2019, the city documented its struggles in an illegal dumping report. In May, the City Council quadrupled its illegal dumping fine from $2,500 to $10,000 for first-time offenders.

Nonprofits will be able to apply as partners in San Jose Bridge by Oct. 1. The expansion program is set to begin on Dec. 1, with new workers starting the onboarding process soon after.

For Fields, he’s already thinking about his next move—something he says wouldn’t be possible without San Jose Bridge.

“I’m thinking of opening up my own business,” Fields said. “It’s a great start. Goodwill has a homeless program that helps you get on your feet. It’s a positive program.”

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

(This story originally appeared in The San Jose Spotlight and was written by Lloyd Alaban. It is being made available through the CalMatters Network.)