Grand Rapids Officials are partnering with a homeless outreach organization Next Step of West Michigan to offer people holding signs and asking for a handout a chance to work for the day instead. The pilot program began in Albuquerque, New Mexico and has been so successful that Grand Rapids Mayor Roslynn Bliss decided to give it a try here. Next Step program director Jonathan Peerboom says he was skeptical at first, but 90 percent of the people who are offered the work jump at the chance to take it.
“Which is interesting because it kind of reframes your thinking about those people holding the signs, the illusion is that they don’t want to work, they’re lazy, and they just want to stand there," Peerboom said. "No, folks aren’t lazy, they just have had a rough go of it and they need a chance. So that is the heart behind it.”
Next Step crews begin in the morning by visiting where homeless or panhandlers frequent and offer $10 an hour to help pick up trash in the city, clean Grand Rapids alleys, clear snow or remove graffiti. An honest day’s work that Peerboom says hopefully doesn’t end there.
“One of the goals we have is that at the end of the day, instead of just dropping these folks off back right in Hearthside with money in their pocket, the goal would be to bring these folks back here at the end of the day, maybe have a meal, and that’s where folks from the neighborhood, or local community or churches could say ‘hey we want to come down and help, and say a kind word to those folks who are out there,” Peerboom said.
City officials said the overall goal of the pilot is to afford opportunity for those people to becoming contributing members of the community. Evaluation of the pilot will occur every 30 days to ensure outcomes are being achieved.