A committee of the Los Angeles City Council has approved a plan to employ homeless people to clean up trash and litter from streets, sidewalks, and alleyways throughout the city on November 1, 2017.  The program has not yet received final approval by the City Council as a whole. Homeless people would be paid to engage in these activities, a program designed to assist men and women to transition out of homelessness and into permanent, appropriate housing. The motion to move forward with this program, and ultimately present it to the full City Council, was approved by the Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee.

Overview of the Proposed Work Program for Homeless People in LA

The committee reported that every day about 200 incoming calls are received via the LA 311 phone number. Presently, there can be a delay in getting the necessary trash cleanup undertaken both because of demand as well as current staff limitations. In order to meet the need for trash cleanup, existing city employees oftentimes need to be taken off of other crucial jobs.

The proposed program, as approved by the committee, would place social justice organizations in charge of hiring and dispatching homeless people to clean up trash and litter. The city will fund the program with tax dollars passed through the social justice organizations. These organizations, in turn, will pay the homeless men and women who work on the program.

The City Council has made clear that this is not a “make work” program. Rather, not only will the program provide a much-needed work opportunity for members of the homeless population in the city, but it also addresses a major problem. Although the city has added more dumpsters and taken other steps to address the growing litter and garbage problem in the city, more needs to be done to keep apace of the problem. The proposed work program utilizing members of the homeless population will assist in addressing the significant litter and garbage problem throughout the city of Los Angeles.

Status of Proposed Work Program

After the City Council committee approved the homeless work program, the committee members asked city staff members to make specific recommendations on what needs to be done to implement the program. Initially, city staff was directed to report back in three months about these details. No recommendations have yet received final approval by the City Council.

Tentative Concept on How the Program May Work

With that said, one proposal that is working its way through the City Council bureaucracy is for a private sector nonprofit called Chrysalis to oversee a pilot project. Homeless individuals would be selected by the nonprofit for the pilot program, up to 30 people in total. They will be divided into six crews, each with a supervisor from Chrysalis. The crews will then be dispatched to different areas of the city identified by the Bureau of Sanitation. A crew member will be paid $13 an hour.

As an agency, Chrysalis is dedicated to working with men and women on the economic margins of society, people who’ve been unemployed for extended periods of time. Because of chronic unemployment, these individuals need assistance in “learning how to have a job,” let alone developing the skills necessary for a particular type of job.

According to the pilot program outline, a homeless person accepted into the project will first undergo 25 hours of training and counseling at Chrysalis. Each person in the program would then be engaged in working on a litter cleanup crew for 32 hours a week.

The ultimate goal is for a participant to be in the program for several months. After that time, the hope is that a program participant will transition into longer-term employment, with the assistance of a Chrysalis case manager.

At this time, city staff continues to work on the program. City Council members do anticipate that the homeless work program will be in place before the end of 2019.

Homeless Encampments

Some of the reports about litter and garbage received by the city do stem from homeless encampments located throughout LA. A homeless encampment is a congregation of homeless people living in a common area. The number of homeless people in an encampment can run from a few individuals to over 100 people.

This proposed program doesn’t call for thorough homeless encampment cleanup. Rather, it would involve the elimination of trash and litter, typically from the perimeters of homeless encampments.

Los Angeles Homelessness Elimination Sales Tax

As about the same time the City Council committee approved the proposed homeless work program, the new quarter-cent sales tax designed to eliminate homelessness in the city and county was coming into being. As a result, the implementation of the proposed work program is now a part of a larger effort throughout the city and county to fund programs designed to address the issue of chronic homelessness. While the enactment of the new sales tax likely slowed down the implementation of the homeless work program, the creation of the sales tax is also beneficial to the program for the long term. The new sales tax targeted to assist homeless men and women provides a more certain source of funding for the work program still pending before the Los Angeles City Council.

Other Cities With Similar Homeless Work Programs

These types of work programs have been proven effective in some other cities, including a similar program in San Jose. As part of the broader Beautify San Jose program, 25 homeless individuals will be hired to clean up litter and garbage around the city. This will include the cleanup of trash at homeless encampments. The program is designed to aid in cleaning up the city and providing homeless men and women work experience and the opportunity to earn some money.

The San Jose program will be coordinated by the city. The city will partner with the Downtown Streets Team as Goodwill of San Jose in recruiting homeless workers and coordinating their efforts. The homeless workers will be paid $15 an hour and will work four to five hours daily.

San Diego launched a program called Alpha Project’s “Wheels of Change” in February 2018. Under the San Diego program, participants will work five hours a day, three days a week, cleaning up litter and trash. A special focus will be on areas near and at homeless encampments in the city.

As is the case with the proposed Los Angeles program, and the one in place in San Jose, the effort in San Diego is a public-private partnership. It involves the city and a reputable nonprofit human services organization, the Alpha Project.

The City of Fort Worth launched the Clean Slate program, also a public-private partnership. Through this partnership, homeless individuals are hired by the city to pick up or collect garbage. In many ways, the current program working its way through the Los Angeles City Council most resembles what has been operating for some time in Fort Worth.

Clean Slate is funded by the City of Fort Worth the tune of about $48,000 annually. The program itself is run by the Presbyterian Night Shelter. Toby Owen, the CEO of the Presbyterian Night Shelter, commented on Clean Slate:

“It’s a win-win. We want a clean neighborhood that speaks hope, that speaks dignity to our homeless guests. And it also provides income for these individuals, so they can move out and be successful without living in a homeless shelter.”

In the past year, Clean Slate employed 40 homeless individuals. These program participants collected nearly 4,000 tons of trash. In addition to picking up trash, some participants in the program do janitorial work for local business in the Fort Worth area.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, implemented a similar program in 2015, before Clean Slate in Fort Worth. Within the first 14 months of the Albuquerque program, over 400 homeless people accepted the offer clean up trash and pull weeds around the city. Participants in this program are paid $9 an hour. The Albuquerque program continues to expand.

Nothing is in concrete until the Los Angeles City Council takes a final vote on launching the homeless work program designed to clean up litter and garbage in the city. Nonetheless, and as was noted previously, the City Council is closer to implementing a pilot phase of the program, which should occur during the coming year as other programs related to the new sales tax to take on homelessness are initiated.

Last Updated January 8, 2019.


Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.