KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A new program to clean up streets in Kansas City, Missouri, is also creating work for people experiencing homelessness. On Tuesday, "Clean Up KC" launched.
Nearly 1,800 people are without a home on any given night in KCMO, according to the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness.
“I never saw myself in this situation, I used to have corporate jobs,” said Melissa Grosko, a worker with Clean Up KC.
Grosko fell on hard times at one point in her life, once calling the streets of KCMO home.
“I’ve slept in parks, I’ve been on bus benches before, sometimes (I) rode the bus to take a nap,” she said.
Now, Grosko is picking up the pieces of her life, starting with picking up trash in her community.
“(I'm) Super excited you know, it’s a lot of work, but well worth it,” she said.
Like Grosko, Walter Jenkins is also getting a second chance thanks to the new program.
“It was something for me to keep my mind out the box, my body moving," Jenkins said. "It’s more of 'Okay, stay positive.' But not be too negative on yourself, it’s going to get better."
Hope Faith Minsitries and Creative Innovative are two local outreach groups that have contracts with the City of KCMO for Clean Up KC.
“We have far too many vacant positions in our public works department,” said Ryana Parks-Shaw, a KCMO councilwoman. “We know that we have individuals that need an opportunity for a job.”
According to Parks-Shaw, the program has been in the works for months.
“It really came from a complaint," she said. "They were like, they see a lot of trash and they generate a lot, so why don’t you put them to work, give them the opportunity to help clean up their spaces."
Kansas City Public Works is also involved, investing $300,000 and working with the local outreach programs.
Parks-Shaw said the money invested into this program will come from tax payer dollars. Those who are recruited will be paid a minimum $15 an hour.
“These are tax dollars that are being utilized to implement this program, but I know we are utilizing tax dollars to address many city issues,” Parks-Shaw said. “The city council has committed $15, and many of the unions and labor all agree starting at $15 is a great start."
Josh Henges, the houseless prevention coordinator of KCMO, says he believes this program is a great start to helping end homelessness in our community.
“We’ve seen the power and effect that neighborhoods have over all policy,” Henges said. “A clean neighborhood is a neighborhood that is going to get behind programs and services. All the things that we need to do to end homelessness, it requires a neighborhood to support it and this is a way to help get that support."
Anton Washington, executive director for Creative Innovative, says this program will help with homelessness outreach in KCMO.
“It allows us to create a significant part of outreach, get names and do assessments if those assessments are needed,” Washington said. "It’s less litter to think about we're paying them an incentive to keep their areas clean."
Doug Langner, executive director of Hope Faith Ministries, said the program will do more than just give the houseless community a job.
“Some of them have been working on substance abuse issues, some of them have been working on housing issues, some of them literally don’t have a bank account," Langner said. "So we’ve been helping them, that push forward that some of us all got in our lives whether we realize it or not."
Langner also mentioned that sometimes there is a negative connotation with the homeless community, and he believes this program will shed a new light.
“Often times people say, 'Why don’t they just get a job,'” Langner said. "Well, it’s not that simple when you’ve been sleeping out in the elements.”
Jimmy Williams, a supervisor for Clean Up KC, also called the streets of KCMO home. He told KSHB 41 he was ridiculed for trash while living on the streets.
"I’ve been homeless before, I’ve been out here and I’ve been marked as the culprit of the problem and I never was,” Williams said.
William says this program will also help change the narrative of the homeless littering streets across our community.
“To give the homeless people that are trying to get something out of life, or a better opportunity, it just feels good to be part of something that is positive," he said.