Group of homeless find temporary employment (copy)

Eighteen homeless individuals helped clean up the part of riverfront during the last labor program in 2019. The city and Community Action Partnership of Greater St. Joseph are reimplementing the program this summer.

The City of St. Joseph and Community Action Partnership of Greater St. Joseph will begin a day labor program with the homeless population.

The program is a win-win for the city and CAP, officials said, as not only does it solve the parks, recreation & civic facilities department’s labor shortage, it also provides the homeless with employment opportunities.

“After last year without having our offender labor and all of the challenges we had with COVID, whoever we can get, whatever we can get as far as numbers go, we’re going to be happy,” said Parks Director Chuck Kempf. “It’ll be more work than we were able to get done last year.”

The day labor program was used briefly in the fall of 2019 and saw promising results, which made it easier to start back up again. The homeless individuals will work for both the parks and public works departments.

“We’ve seen about 75% of individuals that went through the daily work program, the last time we had it, that actually ended up getting full-time positions at other companies throughout the St. Joseph area,” said Rachael Bittiker, CAP’s community development director. “It’s a really great thing, and we hope to see the same kind of things happen this time around.”

For the program this summer, CAP will recruit people at its homeless shelter, a luxury it didn’t have in 2019.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, CAP will bus the homeless to a work destination in the morning. For lunch, the group will be taken to the Open Door Food Kitchen before returning to the job site for the rest of the day.

“We had a great turnout with individuals,” Bittiker said. “We’ve seen a lot of the same individuals come twice a week the first time we implemented it. We have individuals that are super excited that we’ve decided to start this back up again.”

The labor program is just like any other job. Those working will be paid $10 an hour through IMKO Workforce Solutions on a prepaid card and will have to pay federal and state taxes.

This program is funded with $250,000 of the city’s CARES Act funds, but that money does come with restrictions. The funds can be used only in low- to moderate-income areas, so those participating in the program can work only on parks or projects in those determined areas.

“With the parks system winding through a significant part of the city, there are areas that qualify and there are areas that don’t, so we’re trying to put together some maps and some lists to make sure that we don’t violate any of the rules for where those folks can work,” Kempf said.

Over the last year, the parks department had to delay work because there weren’t enough staff. Offender labor, which the department relies on heavily, was not being used because of the pandemic. The city’s park system saw the effects.

“There’s a lot of things that happen that nobody really ever sees,” Kempf said. “Last year a lot of that type of work didn’t get done and then there was a lot of visible work that didn’t get done.”

The Missouri prison system will continue its work release program later this summer. With the homeless population from the new labor program and the returning offenders, the parks department hopes to make up for the lost work this past year.

“We’ll have to decide who does what kind of work and the locations,” Kempf said. “Obviously, the offender labor can work anywhere in our system, so that may be the way we divide that up for this year until we kind of get back to full strength.”

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