Environmental Cleanup Opportunities (ECO) program helps 29 homeless people find jobs in its first year
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – The question most often asked of city officials is: “What are you doing about the homeless problem?” The answer is helping them finds jobs.
On June 18, the Visalia City Council voted to continue a program that pays homeless people to clean up blighted areas of the city for another year. The Environmental Cleanup Opportunities, or ECO Project, also helps train and mentor those that are homeless to find employment after the program is over, and nearly half of all individuals who start the program end it by finding a job.
Visalia’s Public Works Director Adam Ennis said of the 66 homeless individuals who attended the program orientation through April 2018, 47 completed the job readiness portion and at least 29 of those successfully obtained jobs outside of the program.
“By all accounts, the program has been very successful,” Ennis shared with the Council.
The transitional jobs program is a coordinated effort between the City, the Workforce Investment Board of Tulare County, ABLE Industries and community agencies that provide services to the homeless.
Upon entry to the program, participants spend up to three months working as part of a work crew and are guided by a crew supervisor. The supervisor filled the role of not only “boss” but also of a social worker, mentoring individuals in their transition to regular employment.
Work assignments focus on picking up trash or illegally dumped material in the City right-of-way and other public areas. To date, more than 200 tons of illegally discarded material has been removed from the City’s right-of-ways and public spaces by program participants. During this time, participants learn basic job skills such as arriving to work on time, working with others, accepting and executing instructions.
Upon successful completion of the initial work-skills training portion of the program, participants begin working alongside City employees in the solid waste division. Here, they learn to work with less supervision and more accountability while they assemble residential trash cans, help with deliveries, and perform various duties. The proposed 2018-19 budget for the program is $364,364, to be split equally between City and WIB The city’s portion of the program will be funded by $182,182 from the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund.
“In addition to the positive impacts the program has had on participants’ lives is the tangible benefit the City has received as a whole,” added Jim Ross, City of Visalia Public Works Manager. “To date, more than 200 tons of illegally discarded material has been removed from the City’s right-of-ways and public spaces by program participants.”
The city formally launched the ECO program with a press conference in a downtown parking lot last July. Mayor Warren Gubler noted that the ECO program was nominated for by the National Alliance to End Homelessness for its annual Innovation and Excellence Awards. Councilmember Greg Collins applauded the program to address Visalia’s “No. 1 topic” by “getting folks off the street and getting some money in their pockets.”