The Downtown Business Association (DBA) has begun a new initiative that engages some of the City’s homeless in efforts to tidy up the downtown core.
The ‘Clean Team’ project began as part of the DBA’s initiative of the same title that stands as part of their contract with the City to maintain cleanliness, accessibility and an attractive atmosphere in the downtown core.
In part with some citizens who access The Gathering Place on a regular basis, the new ‘Clean Team’ will be hitting the streets to clear litter, remove snow and to help change any negative attitudes towards the homeless.
“We have some people from The Gathering Place who aren’t really able to have a full-time or part-time job working for us for a few hours a week,” said Sandy Dempsey, Clean Team leader for the DBA.
“They go around doing garbage clean-up. They clean up the streets, the alleys and parking lots. Hopefully, we can build this into a much bigger project and maybe involve some people from Safe Harbour and Housing First and other groups.”
The program pays the workers $10 an hour and provides them with between two and three hours of work for a few days a week. Dempsey got the idea after noticing how other downtown business associations had incorporated some of their less fortunate into the programs, and noticed the success of these programs.
“I went down to Lethbridge and had a view of their program. It’s huge and has been active for 10 years. They have some street people from the shelter that do cleaning for businesses first thing in the morning, do picking, leaf collection – all sorts of wonderful things to clean the streets,” said Dempsey.
“It keeps them busy, and gives them meaningful activity. In Lethbridge, a lot of the shop owners and business owners are on board with the program. They like that these guys are helping out and giving back to the community. It’s nice for the other guys – they can earn some money, even if they can’t have a part-time job.”
Part of the reason that Dempsey wanted to involve people from The Gathering Place, and eventually other shelters, is to change perceptions about people who are on the streets. She said that it’s nice to give the homeless people some meaningful work and to include them in the community.
“Some of these people are really struggling and can’t have a full-time or part-time job. A couple of hours a day, even two or three days a week, sure makes them smile and sure helps us out,” Dempsey said.
“It brings people together as a community, and we really need that in the downtown area. If people see that some of the people on the streets are working towards keeping downtown clean, it should change some opinions.”
All of the workers are given DBA equipment, safety gear and a certain route and are made to feel like part of a team. Dempsey hopes to grow the program, but right now, is unsure of where they will find funding for it.
“Funding is a huge, huge barrier in expanding this project. We are paying people $10 an hour for ‘x’ amount of hours per month – it adds up quickly. We just don’t have that capability for growth right now.”
The program began when members of the DBA were looking into how to engage street-involved people in Red Deer in a way that would benefit the downtown core, reduce stigma and allow people to look at street-involved people in a new light.
“We had to embrace the facts about what we have downtown. We wanted a solution to people feeling uneasy around street-involved people, and we wanted to integrate all walks of life in that solution,” said Amanda Gould of the DBA.
“If we can integrate some of our street-involved people into some of the programs that we do, not only does it provide them with meaningful day activity but it also addresses a greater community objective of making downtown a safer, more attractive place.”