When a team of six homeless people wearing florescent green shirts started walking down Main Street Monday, May 21, to clean up downtown streets for the first time, they were overwhelmed by words of encouragement from merchants and the public.
“We had business owners, police officers and members of the public coming out to shake their hands and thank them for cleaning up their streets,” said Street Teams supervisor Tom Maxa. “It was overwhelming and the kind response was unbelievable.”
The city of Sarasota and the Salvation Army’s Street Teams effort to help the area’s homeless while working to clean up the streets is officially under way, and Maxa said it’s proven to be successful after just three days.
The program is designed to help volunteers build work experience and skills while they search for gainful employment. Participants enrolled in the program pick up trash in city parks, trim and weed flower beds and perform minor maintenance work such as painting.
“Each day will be different with different assignments that could include everything from cleaning graffiti to collecting trash and litter,” said Public Works General Manager Doug Jeffcoat. Other work could include park cleanup and vegetative cleanup in public right of ways.
“We are really excited about the partnership and to be able to give these individuals an opportunity while they are able to help the community at the same time,” Jeffcoat said.
Initially, 12 people will work from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. weekdays, with one team of six people stationed downtown and the other team in Newtown. A third team of six people is expected to launch soon.
“This is the kind of partnership we need to help the homeless help themselves,” said Mayor Suzanne Atwell. “The Street Team workers are not replacing city employees. Instead, they’re providing an enhanced level of service in the city.”
The city is providing an $80,000 grant toward operating the program: $40,000 in tax increment funds (TIF) from the Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency and $40,000 in TIF dollars from the Newtown Community Redevelopment Agency.
Street Teams is modeled on a program that has been under way since January 2009 in Daytona Beach and has been launched throughout the country by The Salvation Army.
The Sarasota Salvation Army selected volunteers for the program to gain job experience and grow accustomed to the responsibilities associated with a stable work life, including punctuality and meeting job-performance expectations. The program holds a limited number of spots, but the hope is that as one person moves on to a paying job, another eager worker takes their place.
David Sutton, Sarasota Salvation Army’s director of programs and facilities, said he first learned of Street Teams during a conference a couple of years ago. Last year, he said, he traveled to Daytona Beach to see first-hand how it operates.
The goal, Sutton said, “is to help people who are capable of work” and provide them a safe environment in which to work.
“They have to be clean and sober and willing to work a program” such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Sutton said.
After their four-hour shifts, participants will return to The Salvation Army for required classroom studies, including life-skills training and resumé writing. The goal is for each participant to gain enough experience and knowledge to graduate from The Salvation Army and lead productive lives on his or her own as a contributing member of the community.
“The encouragement the community has already given these Street Team members goes a long way to helping them to succeed,” Maxa said.
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