During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of homeless people in the United States has increased exponentially. According to the US Council of Economic Advisers, as of September 2019, over half a million people go homeless on a single night in the United States. Approximately 65 percent, over 350,000 people, is found in homeless shelters, and the other 35 percent, just under 200,000, are found unsheltered on our streets in places not intended for human habitation, such as sidewalks, parks, cars, or abandoned buildings. (1)
Homeless People Paid Real Money
Since March 2020, the coronavirus has crippled businesses of all sizes and left millions of Americans out of work. According to a recent analysis conducted by Columbia University economics professor Dr. Brendan O’Flaherty, homelessness in the United States could grow as much as 45% by the end of the year. That would mean an additional 250,000 people could be without shelter. The U.S. unemployment rate has reached 14.7%, a level unseen since the depths of the Great Depression in 1933. Several respected models predict unemployment has not yet reached its peak. “This is unprecedented,” Dr. O’Flaherty said. “No one living has seen an increase of 10% of unemployment in a month.” (2)
In addition to the federal government’s economic relief program, states and local governments have been working hard to create jobs for the homeless. The state of Arkansas is no exception. The number of homeless reported in 2018 was approximately 2280 including 240 unaccompanied youth. That number has surely jumped in the last year mainly due to the loss of jobs from the coronavirus. (3)
Meaningfully Helping The Homeless
The town of Little Rock Arkansas has set a commendable example for community solutions to the homeless problem. In April, the Bridge to Work program began paying homeless people $9.25 per hour to pick up trash. Canvas Community Church in Little Rock has been in charge of the program since its inception. The homeless participants have found more than just a sense of community. The program has given them a paycheck as well as mental and physical health services, job interviews and, in some cases, temporary housing.
Associate Pastor Paul Atkins said 380 people have joined the work crews, some more than once. The teams work in groups of eight. Most sign up through the church, but each team leaves a space open in case a panhandler it encounters on its route wants to join.
After a total of 130 sites cleaned, 1,821 hours worked, and 2,056 bags of trash collected, hearts and minds have been changed. Felecia Cooks, a team leader in the program, was not convinced it would be as successful as it has been. “This is just a dream come true for the entire community,” she said.
City Council members Capi Peck, Lance Hines, and Kathy Webb all spoke highly of the results from Bridge to Work’s first five months, with Peck calling the program a “win-win.” The City of Little Rock spent $80,000 for the pilot’s first six months, and the board will have to approve a resolution to extend the funding. There is great hope among all that the program will continue for another year. (4)