Hospitality Hub, a local non-profit homeless resource center, will soon lead an initiative called Work Local that leaders hope will become a long-term solution to the everyday obstacles facing homeless people and panhandlers.
"The goal is that these people are going to be able to exit homelessness by entering this program," said Hospitality Hub associate director Kelcey Johnson.
Work Local is a partnership between the city of Memphis and the Hospitality Hub to offer temporary cleanup work as a gateway to permanent housing and employment.
Hospitality Hub will pick up 10 people on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the fall and pay them $9 an hour for five hours of work. They'll also be provided lunch, a night's housing at the Memphis Union Mission, and access to mental health services, addiction services, health care, and a jobs program, Johnson said.
"The idea is not that they will make enough money working for the program that they'll be able to exit homelessness, but that they will be introduced to a network that will help and support them as they transition out of homelessness," Johnson said.
Funding totals $140,000, and it's provided primarily by the city's Division of Public Works. The Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association donated a bus to the program, and funds were also given by the Downtown Memphis Commission and the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. First Presbyterian Church and Calvary Episcopal Church will assist Hospitality Hub with operating the program.
Work Local's goals are trifold: allowing those in need to earn more than they could panhandling, establishing a network that spurs stable employment, and eliminating blight from the streets of Memphis. Mayor Jim Strickland said the program brings to fruition an imperative aspect of his administration's plans to bolster the city.
"In Memphis, we must do everything we can to make sure every single member of our community has the opportunity to lift themselves up from their circumstances in search of a better life," Strickland said.
The idea originated from Christine Todd, the community ministries coordinator at Calvary Church, Johnson said. Todd discovered a similar program called There's a Better Way in Albuquerque, N.M. Leaders there said the program has exceeded expectations.
"We have often heard anecdotal stories that towns have given clients bus passes to Albuquerque," said Vicky Palmer, the associate executive director at Albuquerque's St. Martin's Hospitality Center. "The program has reduced homelessness with clients obtaining jobs and housing and the services that they need."
A Work Local board member traveled to Albuquerque and spent time with the Better Way program, Johnson said. A team then formed at the beginning of 2016 to conceptualize the Memphis initiative. Now, it's about to come to fruition.
"If you give a person a dollar, that really hasn't helped them much," Johnson said. "[Work Local] is going to reduce blight in the city ... you're going to see a number of people exit homelessness, enter permanent housing, and get permanent jobs. And really, one person living outdoors is too many people living outdoors."