Visalia program seeks to employ homeless to clean up trash in town

ECO Project, city’s transitional jobs program, has helped 67 homeless people find permanent employment, removed 600 tons of trash from the streets and parks

VISALIA – Homeless people get a bad rap for trashing Visalia when many of them are the ones cleaning it up.

More than 100 homeless people have worked in the city’s Environmental Cleanup Opportunities (ECO) Project cleaning up litter and trash throughout the city in the last three years. ECO is a transitional jobs program that assists individuals experiencing homelessness in Visalia gain job readiness skills and work experience, with the goal of obtaining stable employment and housing. The program is a coordinated effort between the city, the Workforce Investment Board of Tulare County, Community Services Employment Training (CSET), the Sequoia Community Corps, and the Visalia Employment Connection.

Through the Visalia Employment Connection’s virtual pre-employment sessions, participants learn about the job interview process, build a résumé, and develop budgeting techniques to balance personal finances. After completing the pre-employment sessions, participants begin their transitional jobs training with CSET’s Sequoia Community Corps.

During the program’s first three years, 179 homeless individuals attended the program orientation, 109 completed the job readiness portion of the program, and at least 67 of those were ultimately successful in securing employment outside of the program. Those individuals have helped remove more than 600 tons of illegally discarded material from the city’s streets and parks.

Unfortunately, even the most successful endeavors have been affected by the pandemic. During the COVID-19 shutdowns referrals from partner agencies have slowed to a trickle. The participants have been split into two crews working alternating days to minimize exposure. Crew member hours have been reduced from 20 to 16 hours per week and work experience in the program has been paused.

Last week, CSET began recruiting people experiencing homelessness for the program. In order to be eligible for the ECO Project, the person must be homeless or have been homeless within the past 12 months, reside in Visalia, and be referred by a local agency or organization. They must be at least 18 years old, possess right-to-work documents, be registered with Selective Service (Males born on or after January 1, 1960 – Verify at Selective Service System web site, and interested in the type of work in the Transitional Jobs Program (litter abatement work within City of Visalia).

Referral forms must be submitted through email to either Jonathan Thompson at [email protected] or Yulie Camberos at [email protected].

Upon referral, participants will be screened and contacted by the Visalia Employment Connection to schedule an orientation. For more information about this topic, including information about the referral process and enrollment criteria, contact Raquel Roa at 559-741-4621.

Community Services Employment Training (CSET) inspires youth, families and communities to achieve self-reliance through innovative pathways and collaboration. Since 1976, CSET has been the Community Action Agency for Tulare County in America’s war on poverty.

The Visalia City Council reauthorized the program at its June 15 meeting through the 2020-21 fiscal year. The city splits the $356,837 budget with the Workforce Investment Board, with the city’s portion coming out of its Solid Waste fund. Funding for the program is partially offset from recycling revenue (approximately $30,000) and savings from hourly positions that are held vacant since the work is performed through the ECO program.

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