February 25, 2019

Grains of Salt (v43): Hire Ground

Grains of Salt
Syracuse and Onondaga County are collaborating on a program that will help reduce panhandling and help establish an income stream for some of the city's homeless population.

In a few short months, we've moved away from plans to address 'aggressive' panhandlers via a local law, and instead will be looking to give people a leg up towards improving their situation.

How did this transition occur?  According to this article,
Four months ago, then-County Legislator Ryan McMahon proposed a different tactic against "aggressive" panhandling. Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh voiced support for McMahon's efforts at the time, but stopped short of endorsing the legislation.
... after extensive discussions with social service providers and others, McMahon and Walsh unveiled  what they called "a better option."
That option? A $200,000 pilot program designed to provide jobs and support to this both visible and invisible population of the city.  The program, called Hire Ground Workforce Development, will provide transportation for up to eight people to job sites three days a week, and also connect them to services, such as drug counseling and health care.

McMahon, now the Onondaga County Executive, said his change in approach came from listening to the experts, something that a good leader should do. He said the old plan, the local law, never had the goal of putting people in jail, but was designed to avoid safety issues that come from panhandlers basically refusing to take 'no' for an answer.
Part of our dialogue was, is there an alternative approach to take, a conservative approach. That's kind of what we're doing here. 
He also noted that the law would have provided funding that could have been used for a day labor program, but increased that to $200K in this year's budget. $180,000 of that will be funded by city taxpayers via their county taxes. (That will alleviate concerns, I'm sure, from suburbanites who tire of having to pay for 'city things' since they don't live here.)  The other $20K would come from whoever wins the program contract.

Walsh also credited the open discussions with the County and the experts.
I think this is a great example where we listened to the experts. Ryan and I have spoken about this issue a lot. When the initial discussions about legislation started I can say definitively say that the idea was never to criminalize homelessness. That doesn't make any sense.
And they didn't have to go far to find experts, either. John and Leigh-Ann Tumino, co-founders of In My Father's Kitchen (IMFK) are long-time advocates for the homeless in our community. The Tuminos and IMFK have a strong track record of success here, providing food for the homeless on a consistent basis and helping them transition to life off the streets. They traveled to New Mexico to observe a homeless/day labor program in Albuquerque, and came back thinking we could do something similar here.

After a Request for Proposals process, IMFK was awarded the contract earlier this month to run the Hire Ground program when it kicks off on May 1st. The program will have a van with a driver and a caseworker to assist the laborers, who will work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays along side the driver and caseworker - so it's not just a pick-up drop-off program. For each workday, the people will receive a $50 stipend.

The program will be overseen by the city's Emergency Solutions Grant Office. Tumino was hopeful, but realistic, about the new program.
These people need to work. We're going to give them an opportunity, an alternative to panhandling Will it end? I don't know. 
The problem is everyone's problem. 
Yes it is.

To learn more about the work of IMFK, you can read their newsletters here.  To learn more about IMFK-branded products, click here.

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