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Homeless paid to clean parks, streets in new King County program

King County wants to not only give homeless residents housing but is also offering them jobs cleaning roadways and parks.

SEATTLE — A new program aimed at getting more individuals experiencing homelessness into supportive housing and back to work has launched in King County.

The crux of it: give homeless residents in need of a paycheck not only a roof over their head but also a job to help get them back on their feet.

The Jobs and Housing Program that Executive Dow Constantine introduced earlier this year starts off with getting those in shelters back to work with temporary paying jobs helping clean parks and roadways. From there, the program will help those workers get assistance from case managers who can guide them through the process of acquiring supportive and affordable housing.

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“This is what we all want, for people experiencing homelessness to not just to get into shelter but to really get back on their feet,” Constantine said.

Constantine said the program can support up to 400 people and has already hired enough people to form two clean-up crews, which started work this month. Another 40 or so are in the hiring process.

The program will focus on six parks to start: Five Mile Lake Park in South King County, White Center Heights Park, Marymoor Park in Redmond, Tolt-MacDonald Park and Campground in Carnation, Three Forks Natural Area along the Snoqualmie River in East King County and Ravensdale Park near Maple Valley.

The county is also looking to expand the program to other areas of its workforce including emergency management and providing customer support for animal services.

Those hired into the program can earn between $20 to $25 per hour and get help finding housing along with career support. The goal is to get every participant a permanent job and housing, looking to help fill employment history gaps and even provide professional references for future job hunts.

The program is being funded by federal COVID-19 relief funds as well as the county’s general fund. In May, the county council approved $38 million for the program.

“The idea here is to get people out of the dead-end of homelessness,” said Constantine. “It is one of several parallel solutions to ultimately turn the tide on homelessness and do something we all want, which is to clean up our streets and parks.”

Constantine hopes the program can be paired with his Health Through Housing initiative and other efforts to help solve the region’s homelessness crisis, which has seen the county’s chronic homeless population rise 27% from 2015 to 2020, according to a Challenge Seattle study.

The Health Through Housing initiative, which is an effort to buy hotels for rapid supportive housing and services, has already resulted in more than 800 units projected to come online before year's end.

“Our new Jobs and Housing Program is one example of how we are sparking an equitable recovery throughout King County,” said Constantine. “By connecting our unhoused neighbors with good-paying jobs and case managers who can help them transition to permanent housing, we are helping more people and families thrive.”