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A New-Look Approach to Helping the Homeless

We’ve all been in this situation before… You pull up to a red light and look to your left where you see a man standing in the median with a cardboard sign that reads: Please Help I’m Homeless. At this point, the internal conflict rages and you are faced with several ultimatums: Do I give him money?  Do I give him a bottle of water?  Do I pretend like I didn’t see him?  

Or perhaps you are on the other end of the spectrum.  If he just worked harder, he wouldn’t be homeless.  Maybe if he laid off the booze he would have a job.  Why doesn’t he get a job like a normal person?

Wherever you stand on the subject, the fact of that matter remains: it is a heartbreaking situation for everyone.  If only there was a way this man could find the will to provide for himself. Well, an organization in Cincinnati is providing an opportunity for individuals like this man to change his life.

The City Gospel Mission has launched the Jobs Van program in an attempt to merge the homeless population with job opportunities and rehabilitation services.  The City Gospel Mission falls under GeneroCity 513, a four-pronged initiative that aims to improve the overall well-being of the greater Cincinnati area.

So, how does the Jobs Van Program work?

Jim Cira, the Jobs Van Program Manager, leaves the mission shelter at 8:30am four days per week in his 10-person van.  As he patrols the downtown streets of Cincinnati, he scans the sidewalks for individuals with cardboard boxes asking for money or food and instead gives them an opportunity for work instead.  Individuals who come aboard are offered nine dollars per hour for seven hours of work- typically trash removal and beautification of areas in need.  In addition, they are served one hot meal for lunch.

After a hard day’s work, Jim informs the riders of potential rehabilitation, detox, and workforce agencies that suit their particular needs.  Addiction is a common issue amongst his riders, and it is common that many of them are linked to detoxes and sober living facilities.

Word of the van has spread like wildfire.  Potential riders wait patiently on the sidewalk for an opportunity to get to work.  Jim often can’t accommodate everyone with one 10-person van.  However, he makes it a point to speak individually with anyone who is willing to take the steps to change their life.

In less than one year of operation, the Jobs Van Program has graduated 15 riders to permanent employment, and another 88 riders have been connected to social services in some form. Jim encourages alumni of the van to come back and  help those who are in need.

The Jobs Van has done much more than simply give people an opportunity for work.  The van has built a community for people who are currently living a lonely life of isolation on the streets.  In an otherwise hopeless situation, the sight of a van rolling down the street ignites a fire that maybe today can be a better day.

Could the program be a blueprint for all cities across the US?  If you think about it, the Jobs Van is using one problem to solve another- providing employment for those who have none to clean up the streets that need cleaning.  It could be a match made in heaven.

We will continue to monitor the progress of this new initiative.

As always, if you or a loved one need help, please do not hesitate to reach out. We are happy to help point you in the right direction.

Photo Credit: Matt Collamer, @breakyourboundaries4