What a deal! San Jose to pay homeless to clean up their mess

San Francisco’s homeless problem has become legendary in recent years, with residents complaining and worries over the impact it has on tourism. This applies to other cities and communities in the region, including the city of San Jose. Various proposals have been offered, ranging from sending out the police to round them up, constructing more affordable housing and, most recently, some cities have considered imposing a new tax on their residents just to pay for solutions. San Jose could probably use some of that money because their next plan involves going around and paying the homeless $15 per hour to clean up the mess that they created.(San Francisco Gate)

San Jose is launching a new program to clean up the streets while also helping get people off them.

The initiative will employ 25 homeless residents to pick up trash at 40 “litter hotspots” around the city. The employees will be paid $15 per hour and work four to five hours per day.

The pilot program was announced by Mayor Sam Liccardo Thursday in partnership with Goodwill and Downtown Streets Team. Participants will start picking up trash in November.

Granted, a 25 person workforce isn’t all that large in terms of getting the homeless off the streets, but this phase of the project is only a pilot program and it could be expanded later. A couple of challenges the plan faces come to mind immediately, however. First of all, how are you going to pay them? In cash? Most of the homeless probably don’t have bank accounts or the ability to cash a check without going to one of those short-term loan outfits and being charged outrageous fees. Will they have taxes withheld?

Beyond that, there’s the basic question of motivation. As the Gate article notes, the places they want to pay the homeless to pick up trash are the same spots where the homeless congregate and create the trash problem to begin with. Once word gets around that the city is handing out cash to clean up trash, well… isn’t that sort of like paying someone to pick up dead birds in the park and waiting to see if they don’t start shooting a bunch of birds? It just seems like you’re going to create an incentive for people to create more garbage.

Then there’s the issue of the working class poor of the city who somehow manage to scrape by in one of the most expensive places to live in America. If you have residents working at real jobs for minimum wage ($13.50 per hour), how are they going to respond to the city handing out taxpayer dollars at an even higher wage for make-work jobs like this? It doesn’t strike me as something that’s going to be terribly popular in the long-run when residents are already taxed at outrageous rates.

Long-term solutions to the problem of homelessness are obviously hard to come by and few cities have really cracked the code. But they need to be focusing on dealing with mental health challenges, massively high rents and questions of where you can establish long-term housing coupled with job training programs that can get people out of the safety net and back into functional positions in society.

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