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Could a job van roll through Sacramento, picking up the homeless for day labor?

Homeless in Sacramento

Sacramento Bee photographers found a few people willing to tell us why they are homeless.
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Sacramento Bee photographers found a few people willing to tell us why they are homeless.

Sacramento may consider employing homeless people as day laborers charged with cleaning public spaces.

Councilman Jay Schenirer on Tuesday asked city staff to create a plan in the coming weeks for a roving jobs van that would recruit homeless people downtown and pay them a day’s wage to do tasks such as picking up trash, scrubbing graffiti and pulling weeds.

“We want to provide employment for people,” said Schenirer on Wednesday. “We know that is the way out of poverty and hopefully the way out of homelessness.”

Schenirer said by focusing the work on city parks and public spaces, the city would benefit as well.

“It’s a win-win,” said Schenirer. “It would be good for the city if we had people doing work that would beautify the city.”

Homelessness in Sacramento has risen dramatically in the past two years. The most recent count released in July found 3,665 people living on the street, an increase of 30 percent from 2015. Some downtown business owners and residents have asked the city for greater police presence and enforcement in the central city as problems associated with homelessness have increased.

Schenirer didn’t come up with the idea of a day laborer program himself. It’s modeled after a program in Albuquerque, N.M., called “There’s a Better Way,” started by that city’s Republican mayor, Richard Berry.

Since beginning the program in 2015, Albuquerque has given out 3,080 jobs and removed 165,701 pounds of trash, according to information from the Albuquerque Mayor’s Office. At the end of the shift, the homeless workers in Albuquerque have the option of being dropped off at a shelter where they can connect with health, mental health and other services. Twenty people have received housing through the program and 189 have accessed mental or substance abuse help.

“We know there is a better way than standing on a street corner begging for money, and we know we can change lives through the dignity of work,” Berry said in a written statement.

Schenirer said he envisioned a similar Sacramento program starting as a pilot and focusing on the downtown area. He acknowledged during the council meeting that the union representing many city workers, Stationary Engineers Local 39, would need to be consulted.

Schenirer also suggested the city explore opening free storage lockers for homeless people to store carts and other belongings. He said the lockers could serve the dual purpose of keeping belongings out of parks and providing a safe place for people to leave their possessions without the fear of having them stolen or confiscated by law enforcement.

Schenirer’s suggestions come as the council is considering new ways to curb what some council members characterize as an increase in aggressive panhandling with changes to ordinances that would bolster law enforcement’s ability to cite homeless people.

Those proposed changes to local laws have been controversial. At a committee meeting earlier Tuesday chaired by Schenirer, many of the most contested provisions were pulled from consideration, including measures to prohibit panhandling at many intersections and freeway ramps. The committee moved forward on a proposal to require more alcoves of abandoned buildings to be boarded up or fenced in.

Last week, the City Council dropped a proposal to prohibit picketing and amplified rallies in some residential areas after community members protested the measure.

The remainder of the proposed changes will return to committee for further consideration, including increasing the ability of police to issue misdemeanor citations in limited circumstances when someone refuses to leave a public space or park.

Schenirer’s jobs van will return to the council for consideration in the coming weeks, he said.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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