San Diego’s growing homeless population now have a better chance to find work thanks to one compassionate 16-year-old. A pilot program that provides basic jobs for people living on the streets is the brainchild of 16-year-old Kevin Barber.
Barber was inspired to take action after watching a TED talk that described a similar program to help lift the homeless out of poverty and become self-sufficient.
“It just looked really simple, and the statistics were staggering,” the high school junior told CNN. With San Diego now ranked as a city with the fourth-highest level of homelessness in the nation, Barber decided that something needed to be done.
The boy’s mother, Dr. Carolyn Barber, is an emergency department physician, and often talks with her son about the vast numbers of homeless people she treats on a daily basis.
“I see so many people who just don’t have many opportunities,” Dr. Barber told CNN.
So, this determined mother and son reached out to the city government and attempted to launch a work program for the homeless. It’s called “Wheels for Change,” and participants get paid $11.50 an hour.
A GoFundMe campaign set up to help raise the finances needed to see the long-term continuation of the program explains more of the specifics:
“The program is simple. Several days a week a van will pick up homeless people who express an interest in working. The van will take them to work picking up trash, pulling weeds, clearing brush, etc. At the end of the day, workers will be driven back to Alpha Project, or to the City’s new tent structures for the homeless, and will be compensated for their work. Here they may also possibly get shelter arranged. The goal is to get the homeless connected with social services they need, into housing, and offer them the dignity of working. It empowers people and gives them work. We believe this is a win-win for the City, the homeless, and our community.
With 11,000 homeless people in San Diego, and 150 already on our waitlist to go out on the van, I need your help. Wheels of Change gives jobs to the homeless, helps get them services they need, and helps clean up our community. We all win!”
To get things going, Kevin’s mom donated the funds required to run the program for the first six months.
As a result of their hard work, the city is considering financing the program moving forward, with many local politicians supporting the initiative.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” City Councilman Scott Sherman told CNN.
Employing the homeless population to clean up the city also eases the burden of San Diego’s sanitation department.
“It’s just so medicinal for our folks who have always been marginalized and irrelevant,” said Bob McElroy, who helps the homeless community through his non-profit, Alpha Project. The program has generated huge interest from those on the streets.
“Lord have mercy, our folks just wanted to participate,” McElroy told CNN. “San Diego is going to be spotless by the time we are through with this.”
The stories of those signing up for this groundbreaking project are wonderfully inspirational.
Growing hopeless with her life on the street, Susan Graham was beginning to experience suicidal thoughts before the Alpha Project lifted her out of her low state. So when she found out about the “Wheels of Change” program, she enrolled and didn’t look back.
“To give back means a lot to me because they have given so much to me,” Graham said. “This is a miracle. I am a miracle.”
Through “Wheels of Change,” Kevin Barber wants to help eradicate homelessness completely.
“Our goal is to get another van and have it go more days of the week,” he said. “Helping as many people as we can.”
Learn more about this incredible program by visiting the “Wheels of Change” website.