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City looks at giving homeless odd jobs

The City of Victoria, which gave homeless people $20 apiece to attend a public meeting on temporary shelter options, is exploring a program to give paid odd jobs to the homeless or people with disabilities.
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The City of Victoria gave homeless people $20 apiece to attend a public meeting in September on temporary shelter options.

The City of Victoria, which gave homeless people $20 apiece to attend a public meeting on temporary shelter options, is exploring a program to give paid odd jobs to the homeless or people with disabilities.

During budget deliberations, city councillors asked staff to report back on how such a program could be organized and funded.

The idea was proposed by Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who said she wants to see the budget implications before making recommendations. Noting that years ago the city ran a summer program where students cleaned gum from under benches, Thornton-Joe said the city might be able to work with Community Living B.C. or Cool Aid’s REES program (Resources, Education, Employment and Support) to come up with a program to help those looking for casual work.

“I’m not thinking of a full-time job,” Thornton-Joe said, adding the idea would be “to empower individuals who can maybe only do two hours a week or four hours.”

Thornton-Joe later told the Times Colonist that people could be hired to clean Centennial Square, deliver inter-departmental mail, help with photocopying or wash vehicles. She said the city would have to work with CUPE, the union representing municipal workers, to determine what would be acceptable.

“We would want the support of the union and ideas they may have.”

Sherry Olak, city assistant director of human resources, said provisions in the collective agreement allow for such a program.

The idea is not new, said Mayor Lisa Helps. Residents have for some time been posting stories on her Facebook page about a program in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in which the city’s public works department has a budget to offer 10 homeless people a day employment for tasks such as pulling weeds or picking up litter, Helps said.

“Many people from across the spectrum, from business people to community-minded people are [asking]: ‘Can we do this? Can we do this?’ ”

The idea is coming from the community, not from council, Helps said. “Apparently, the collective agreement allows for it, so that’s a good start. Obviously, there would be budget implications and so this is just a preliminary look to see what it would take to even consider this.”

Two months ago, the city paid 365 people $20 each for a total of $7,300 to attend a workshop on temporary housing options. The payments drew criticism from groups such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Helps defended the spending as inexpensive consulting fees.

She said the meeting was insightful. “Over and over and over, I talked to people that night who were homeless and they want to work. Not only do they want to work but they are skilled,” Helps said.

“For that [homeless] person who’s a carpenter or a mechanic or whatever, even just getting dignified work from the city, whether it’s raking leaves or whatever it is, that is a fundamentally different way of making a living than sitting on the street asking passersby for money.

“There’s dignity in work.”

John Burrows, CUPE Local 50 president, could not be reached for comment.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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