Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is launching a job and life skills program for the city’s nearly 800 homeless people, an effort he says will help the growing number of people residing in the city’s streets, parks and along the Santa Ana River.
Tait unveiled the program, called “Better Way Anaheim,” during his annual State of the City address at the City National Grove Tuesday morning.
“A good job can transform a life,” Tait. “It brings a person dignity and purpose. It focuses them on working with others to get a job done and done well.”
The program is modeled after an initiative launched in 2015 by Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry called “There’s a Better Way.” Through the program, the city paid homeless people for jobs like picking up trash and landscaping.
In Anaheim, the city will direct $50,000 during the project’s first year to the nonprofit administering the program, said city spokesman Mike Lyster.
City officials are currently in talks with Los Angeles-based Chrysalis, which helps people with barriers to employment — veterans, homeless people, and those with criminal records — develop job skills and find long-term employment.
Lyster said by working through a nonprofit the city can provide jobs to homeless people without requiring them to become city employees.
The Albuquerque program has garnered national attention as an innovative approach to addressing homelessness beyond short-term needs like food and shelter.
A van is dispatched daily to pick up homeless individuals who are interested in working, which pays $9 an hour, above the state minimum wage. Workers are provided with a lunch and overnight shelter if needed.
Albuquerque officials claim people working in their program have removed 117,601 pounds of litter, and 216 people have found other employment opportunities. Additionally, 20 people have found housing and 151 have engaged with mental health services, according to the city’s website.
The program, which started out with a $50,000 budget in its first year, is budgeted for $181,000 in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Tait’s announcement came the morning after homeless advocates protested overnight on the steps of City Hall against the city’s anti-camping ordinance.
The advocates have been lobbying the City Council in recent weeks to repeal the ordinance, which subjects the homeless to tickets and fines for pitching tents, cooking and storing their belongings in public spaces. Repeat offenders can be subject to a misdemeanor charge and prosecuted.
Although the law is selectively enforced, advocates say it criminalizes the condition of homelessness and makes life difficult for people who already have few other options.
“We felt a little bit of hardship last night when we were told we couldn’t have our tents,” said Renee B., one of the people who camped out in front of City Hall overnight, to the city council Tuesday evening. “This camping ordinance takes away the little shelter they have – it puts a hook in them and keeps them in the criminal justice system.”
However, Anaheim has made other efforts at addressing its growing homeless population. Since 2014, the city has partnered with the nonprofit City Net, which provides outreach, mental health services, storage centers and connects homeless people to housing.
Last year, Anaheim announced Drug Free Anaheim, a program which would allow individuals who are not wanted for another crime and who don’t pose a danger to others or themselves to walk into a city police station and request help. Those individuals would be connected with drug treatment and rehabilitation programs.
Anaheim has also contributed $500,000 toward Orange County’s first year-round homeless shelter, which is scheduled to open later this year in the northeast corner of the city.
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