The city of Syracuse and Onondaga County are joining forces to get some chronically homeless individuals off the streets and into a job.
County Executive Ryan McMahon and Mayor Ben Walsh are calling the "Hire Ground Workforce Development" pilot program a joint poverty initiative. McMahon said it focuses on homeless panhandlers who are difficult to reach, by first offering them a job.
"And we’re not taking them and put them through an application process. We’re taking these folks who are willing to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them that day, and putting them to work where they can earn some money."
The hope is that staff will ultimately connect these individuals to services that get them off the streets entirely.
The county has sent out a request for proposals to find a community partner to run the program. They will provide transportation for up to eight local panhandlers or homeless individuals to specific city or county worksites, three times a week. The county is providing the initial $200,000 to get things going.
Walsh expects the private sector to get pick up the slack later on.
"The public funding of this program helps us get started," Walsh said. "But I think ultimately it will be the private sector and private funding that will sustain it."
John Tumino runs "In My Father’s Kitchen," a non-profit organization that engages with the homeless community every day.
"90 percent of the people would be willing to participate. And I think it’s a way to engage folks to get them to think about some other things than getting money in their pocket," Tomino said. They'd be getting better all around."
Officials hope the program, modeled after successful initiatives in cities like Albuquerque, New Mexico, can be up and running by summer.
McMahon introduced a bill in the county legislature earlier this year that would ban aggressive panhandling. He later shelved the bill, and called this program a better option.