Numerous trash however little cash within the San Jose program to pay homeless folks and decide up trash

December 23, 2020

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Weeks after San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo announced a program to pay cash to homeless people to pick up trash in the city, program participants said trash had been building up and they hadn’t been paid for weeks – until San José Spotlight asked about it.

On December 19, the day after a request from this news organization, Liccardo went to a homeless camp in Roosevelt Park and handed out prepaid debit cards to homeless people who had been waiting to be paid for about five weeks.

“They came over to get our trash a few weeks ago, but that was it. A lot of us ended up throwing away the bags we had saved because we don’t like to have trash just standing around,” said Benny Molina , a homeless man who lives in Roosevelt Park, told San Jose Spotlight on December 3rd. “So I think this was just a political ploy to get the news out of here and say we need help from him (Liccardo).”

Liccardo told San Jose Spotlight that he would rather provide “updated information” about the program than respond to allegations.

“Our unoccupied residents have enough pressures and obstacles to deal with. I’m not going to get involved in a” he said, she said, “said Liccardo.

Molina said he made $ 20 for his trash in the days leading up to Liccardo’s press conference on November 12 at Roosevelt Park, where the program started. But more than a month passed after additional garbage bags were filled in anticipation of the next garbage collection cycle, and garbage collectors with the program did not return. Molina wasn’t paid again until December 19th.

The six-month Cash for Trash pilot program was launched as part of BeautifySJ, an initiative launched in 2017.

The idea is to pay homeless residents $ 4 for every garbage bag collected. Payouts were capped at $ 20 per day, with trash collected from the city every 10 to 14 days.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo speaks to a garbage collector after helping with pickup in Roosevelt Park on December 19. Photo courtesy of the mayor’s office.

Paul Pereira, a senior Liccardo political adviser who worked on the program, said the December 19 garbage collection was not due to media inquiries but rather to complaints from homeless people about rotting food in the garbage bags.

“We didn’t come around because we were taking extra precautions in the face of the COVID-19 outbreaks,” he said. “But people have complained about the rotting food. I see. That will attract things like mice and we didn’t want that.”

BeautifySJ originally planned to set up 40 cash for trash garbage collection points across the city, Pereira said, but the city only identified 15 locations due to the surge in COVID-19 infections.

“We shouldn’t be within two meters of people. It takes about 5 to 10 minutes to register a person. They use a pen and clipboard,” said Pereira. “This is against the county policy of being so close to people that we can’t register new people until the shelter is over.”

More than 60 homeless people have signed up for the program. Garbage collection points included Tully Ballpark and the streets around the Boccardo Regional Reception Center on Little Orchard Street, which serves as a shelter and provides services to people in need.

Edwin Vasquez, who also lives at Roosevelt Park Camp on Coyote Creek, said no trash has been collected since the program started.

“The bags you see are from people who have been waiting for the next time (garbage collectors),” Vasquez said in Spanish. “Well, they didn’t come back.”

BeautifySJ program manager Olympia Williams said the city is still collecting data on how the program can be structured so that it is most effective for participants.

“(We) are figuring out what works best for the program and program participants, and what types of sites and locations work best,” she said. “We’re in the process of registering people.”

Liccardo said the program was only suspended at Roosevelt Park to protect emergency services following a COVID-19 outbreak in the camp.

“To the best of my knowledge, there will be a solution in a few days, but we had to re-evaluate the protocols to keep everyone safe,” said the mayor.

For the first time since the program started, garbage collectors returned to Roosevelt Park with Liccardo on December 19, collecting garbage from residents whose garbage bags were overflowing at the entrances to their tents.

But Molina says he still hasn’t been paid for all of his trash.

“We gave them 16 bags, but they only gave me and my girl $ 20 each. And some people weren’t even paid because they weren’t here,” Molina said. “The only reason they came back to pay us off is because you pushed them.”

The San Jose Spotlight spoke to five homeless people in three San Jose homeless camps last month, all of whom said they had collected trash but the city had not picked it up or paid for it properly.

“Two people came here a few weeks ago … they dropped a couple of bags and told us we would get $ 4 for each one we filled if they came back for them,” said Ruben Florez, a homeless man, who lived with Coyote Creek. “As far as I know, they didn’t come back.”

Florez said he and his neighbors filled at least 20 trash bags and stacked them along the fence at the end of Singleton Road. The bags disappeared – but there was no money in sight.

“I don’t think the trash crew had a clue (Cash for Trash),” he said. “But it’s good that we have our rubbish picked up, period. We’re happy with that, but you should come back anyway to drop off more bags. We needed more.”

Garbage bags stand in front of a motor home parked on Will Wool Drive, where Ana Sele lives. Photo by Vicente Vera.

Ana Sele, who lives in a RV across from Coyote Creek, said she was paid for her trash in the days leading up to Liccardo’s announcement of the program.

“Some city officials came by and had someone speak to me in Spanish to tell me about the garbage program,” Sele said in Spanish. “They came by in a dump truck and gave me money right there for the few bags I had.”

Although she and her other neighbors continued to collect trash after the first visit, Sele also said trash collectors had not returned.

She eventually threw away the six trash bags she’d collected in a dumpster near her home after losing patience. She wasn’t paid for these bags.

“You can’t ask me to have all this junk here if no one comes back,” Sele said. “If it were a one-time thing, I could live with it. I don’t need any trash.”

The city has piloted similar rubbish collection programs in the past, but not all of them survived.

This time city guides, including Liccardo, praised the program as a way for homeless residents without stable jobs to generate additional income. The program received $ 230,000 from the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the city’s garbage cleaning budget, according to the mayor’s office.

Bailey Lopez, a homeless man who lives with Florez on Singleton Road on Coyote Creek, said he was given three extra bags of trash and was told by a trash collector where they could get more.

As it turns out, the location along Singleton Road is not an approved pickup location due to flooding concerns.

“I don’t know how you would even explain all of your pockets and the money you spend,” Lopez said.

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @vicentejvera.

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