INDIANAPOLIS — Looking to give the homeless and panhandlers a step up, the city of Indianapolis has been doing something not too many other cities do – giving them jobs.
The program to pay panhandlers to clean up the city started about a month ago, with the partnership of Keys to Work, an Indianapolis staffing agency.
The people working in the program pick up trash in the downtown area, sometimes going into alleyways or side streets for about $10 an hour.
The program was funded by an extension of parking meter hours downtown and in Broad Ripple earlier this year.
A 2017 survey by the Coalition For Homelessness Intervention & Prevention examined panhandling and homelessness in Indianapolis. The survey found that 56% of people who answered the questions said they made less than $20 a day panhandling, with about 86% saying they use the money to pay for food. About 20% said they used the money for alcohol or drugs.
Philip Lawson, who has been with the program since the beginning, said it’s been tough to find a job because of the stigma homeless people being dope fiends or alcoholics.
“It was pretty hard,” Lawson said. “Sometimes I'd be hurt so bad I want to cry because of the door being slammed in my face. Then I came here, and I felt that atmosphere. And I was like, ‘I gotta go for it.’"
Lawson became homeless after his mother died and he turned to drugs and alcohol, but he’s clean now and he has been trying to find his way back. He said he likes the camaraderie of working with people who are going through the same experiences.
Michael Gilbert, another person in the program experiencing homelessness, said the program has helped people get a more positive outlook on their futures.
“As long as you have a good mindset and you want to get out here and change your life and get back into the race, it will happen,” Gilbert said. “A person has to want it though. If they don’t want it. How can you help yourself if you don’t help yourself?”