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‘Wheels of Change’: Student touts a program to give homeless people work

Early Monday morning (Feb. 26), San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced the roll-out of a new homelessness work force program called Wheels of Change. The force that got those wheels turning is 16-year-old Bishop’s School student Kevin Barber of La Jolla.

The program will be run by the Alpha Project and provide day jobs at $11.50 per hour for interested homeless individuals in the City of San Diego. Two days a week, a van will pick up homeless people who express an interest in working. The van will drive to a designated site to complete needed tasks such as picking up trash, pulling weeds and clearing brush, for five hours. At the end of the day, workers will be driven back to Alpha Project, or the City’s tent structures, and will be compensated for their work.

The first six months of the program and the purchase of a van has been funded by a private donor, and donations are now being accepted to keep the project going at alphaproject.org/donate

“This is all about creating more opportunities for homeless individuals to lift themselves out of extreme poverty,” Faulconer said. “Wheels for Change will help restore dignity by allowing people to earn a paycheck and begin to get back on their feet. For many, this may be just the chance they need to begin turning their lives around.”

Kevin said the idea for Wheels of Change came from a similar program operating in Albuquerque called There’s A Better Way. “The program looked simple, really effective, and I wondered if we might be able to bring it to San Diego,” he said. “This issue is very important to me because of the large homeless population in San Diego. My mom works in the emergency department (of a hospital) and takes care of many homeless people. We’ve talked about it a lot. When I visited Albuquerque’s program, I saw how thankful the homeless people were to have the opportunity to work. Some just spoke about the hard time they were having temporarily, and they felt like the program just gave them hope and filled a real need. I think this can really help.”

The Albuquerque-based program started as a six-month pilot program, but now has two vans that run five days a week and employs up to 20 homeless individuals a day, according to press material. Over a dozen cities have implemented a similar program including Austin, Chicago, Denver, Lexington, Portland and Seattle.

Kevin explained the goal of Wheels of Change is to provide work and income earning opportunities, but also to connect homeless individuals with services that may help them. “We hope it will help move people from the streets possibly into housing, rehab and/or job training. It’s a first step,” he said. “We also believe that Wheels of Change will really help people and let them have the dignity of working.”

His mother, Carolyn, helped launch the program locally, and can attest to the power of purpose. “Kevin and I visited the 300-person homeless tent structure erected downtown last weekend, and I worked in the ER last night. Some folks are depressed with little positive going on in their lives. If we give homeless people a chance to work and have some purpose, it will help restore their sense of dignity, and perhaps, fewer will turn to drinking or other substances.”

Because Wheels of Change parallels the mission of the Alpha Project — specifically that it aims to empower individuals, families and communities by providing work, recovery and support services to people who are motivated to change their lives and achieve self-sufficiency — Alpha Project CEO Bob McElroy was an early supporter.

“We feel very lucky to have Alpha Project, a nonprofit with many years of experience helping the homeless, run this. They have been fantastic with their support. And, Mayor Faulconer is also backing Wheels of Change. This program is definitely a team effort,” Kevin said.

A website with more information on Wheels of Change is forthcoming, but those wishing to donate can visit: www.gofundme.com/wheelsofchange

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