Downtown Seattle’s Metropolitan Improvement District (MID) has never given a second thought to bestowing the dignified title of ambassador to Seattle’s homeless, making the employer an ideal partner to launch United Way of King County’s Jobs Connect program.
The first wave of Jobs Connect participants are performing four-week temporary stints as street maintenance ambassadors for the MID. Wearing orange vests and clutching brooms and dust pans, the workers are teamed with full-time MID ambassadors, some of whom can relate personally, having once been homeless themselves.
“Our maintenance crews always have been a second-chance program,” said Judy Parker, who has been doing outreach for the MID for the past eight years. “The MID wants to get involved with anything that helps break down barriers for people to get housing as well as anything else that gets people on the path to a thriving life.”
Jobs Connect aims to accomplish both. As the program evolves, it will need additional anchor employers that possess worthy goals similar to those of the MID. Lynda Kellems, who supervises the Jobs Connect program for The Millionair Club Charity, envisions other employers who sign on to the program could come from a variety of different industries, including janitorial, landscaping, food and events.
“This program will attract employers that really can see the potential of what it can do for their city,” she said. Jobs Connect also will attract employers that can appreciate what it does for the workers.
“I can’t even explain to you how good it feels to walk up and down these streets as someone with a job,” said Roland Tennin, one of the first Jobs Connect workers that The Millionair Club has lined up with the MID. “All these well-dressed business people seeing us cleaning up and maintaining these streets that we all use together…I feel this job is like a public service.”
Jobs Connect is based on a similar program in Albuquerque, N.M., that uses a van twice a week to pick up homeless individuals to work day jobs, providing an income-earning alternative to panhandling. Unlike that program, though, Jobs Connect asks for a four-week commitment from its participant workers and has a loftier goal of seeing that temporary job work its way into permanent employment and stable housing.
Jobs Connect workers are paid weekly rather than at the end of each day, such as in Albuquerque. The Millionair Club, not the employer, issues the paycheck. The check means more than money – it helps the worker establish a history of reportable income, which can come in handy when applying for housing.