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Little Rock plans to begin a six-month pilot program to provide paid day labor opportunities for homeless people next month.

City directors will vote next week on whether to allot $80,000 for a partnership with a local church organization to operate "A Bridge to Work."

Canvas Community Church would provide supervisors who three days each week would pick up people who are homeless or panhandling throughout the city and put them to work on city beautification and garbage or debris removal for four hours and pay them $9.25 cash per hour. Paul Atkins, an associate pastor at the church, said it would also provide a connection point to link those in need to social services.

"The big idea is to give folks who are experiencing homelessness an opportunity to day labor," Atkins said Tuesday. "The long-term thing is to develop the relationships and services that will help them meet whatever goals they have for themselves -- long-term work, housing, education."

According to the proposed memorandum of understanding between the church and city, the city would provide a van and the Public Works Department would decide the locations for the pickup points and work sites. Two supervisors from Canvas Community Church would work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; the participants' workday would be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Supervisors would be paid $11 an hour. Participants would be served lunch and be paid in cash at the end of the workday at a rate of $9.25 per hour, totaling $37 per day. That rate is about the same as what Little Rock pays its temporary employees for similar jobs. "A Bridge to Work" tasks could range from clearing weeds and litter to planting trees, officials said.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Assistant City Manager James Jones presented the results of a 2019 survey of individuals experiencing poverty by the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The highest anyone panhandling reported making in one day was more than $40, though the majority made $20 or less.

"[Panhandling] does offer supplementary income to those who desperately need financial assistance," Jones said. "It's not a sustainable or long-term solution for those individuals."

The project is modeled after an Albuquerque, N.M., program that was started by that city's previous mayor in 2015 and dubbed "There's a Better Way." City leaders met with the official who oversees the program in September to work out a Little Rock version. Cities, including Tulsa and Fort Worth, have implemented versions of the programs.

The pilot period is to run from April 1 to Sept. 27, per the memorandum of understanding. Ward 5 City Director Capi Peck, one of the officials who worked on establishing the program in Little Rock, said it would more likely kick off in mid-April.

The program's supervisors will partner with other local organizations to connect people with "wraparound" social services they may need.

"Connecting these people to services is the ultimate goal here, moving them from ... panhandling or temporarily homeless to connect with services that can either help them get the services they need to move towards affordable housing, medical care, whatever the case may be," Peck said.

Twenty percent of people who panhandled reported receiving social services, the Clinton School survey found.

A January 2017 census by the Central Arkansas Team Care for the Homeless counted 990 homeless people in the Little Rock metropolitan area.

Ward 7 City Director B.J. Wyrick said the program would be another tool in the city's toolbox for helping homeless individuals.

"It's swept across the nation, the results from a cleaner town and work for the homeless, so I'm really excited about it happening," she said.

Metro on 03/13/2019

Print Headline: Little Rock plans to test hiring homeless

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