Homeless people will earn $10 an hour to beautify the city of Omaha

Homeless people will earn $10 an hour to beautify the city of Omaha
World-Herald News Service

Inaugural participants in a new day-work program for homeless people will earn $10 an hour working in the city’s greenhouse, prepping flowers and plantings for city parks.

On Thursday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Maj. Greg Thompson, commander of the Salvation Army’s Western Division, talked about the new A Way to Work program.

“My ultimate goal would be to end homelessness in the city of Omaha,” Stothert said. But that’s a complicated issue, she said, and the jobs program is one way to help that population.

Under the program, which will start next month, the city will pay homeless people and panhandlers $10 an hour for two days a week for doing jobs that beautify the city. (The minimum wage in Nebraska is $9 an hour.)

The city will also take workers to job sites and give them lunch.

Six people will be accepted at a time; they will be screened and employed by the Salvation Army. Initial participants will be selected by the Siena-Francis House.

Thompson said the screening process isn’t meant to keep people out but rather to prepare them for a job. For example, they may need help getting identification, he said.

Participants will be subject to a background check and E-Verify.

The program is funded with $50,000 each from the City of Omaha and the Salvation Army. Stothert plans to include funding for the program in next year’s budget, too.

The $100,000 will help pay for a program manager (roughly $60,000, including benefits), participant wages (about $20,000) and administrative and other costs.

There were an estimated 1,389 homeless people in Omaha and Council Bluffs as of January 2017, according to data by the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless. About 300 people were classified as chronically homeless.

When participants aren’t working, they will receive help and access to training and services, such as counseling. Thompson said those running the program hope to teach participants skills that help them find long-term employment.

City Parks Director Brook Bench said a successful participant could end up with a part- or full-time job with the city. And workers could help other city departments as the program grows.

Omaha’s program is modeled after one in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But Stothert said she thinks that Omaha’s will be even better because of the additional services .

The program will run from Feb. 5 to Sept. 30, with six people participating for 90 days. If people drop out, they will be replaced so six people are engaged at all times.

The City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to OK the program.