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Wheels of Change is a work program for the homeless that a teenager, Kevin Barber, launched with Alpha Project (a nonprofit (501(c)(3)) and Mayor Faulconer in San Diego, February 2018. With over 11,000 homeless individuals on our streets, a recent Hepatitis A outbreak, and a mom who is an ER doctor working with the homeless, Kevin wanted to do something. He helped create "Wheels of Change", modeling it after a successful job program in Albuquerque, NM. It is now run by Alpha Project, who has more than 30 years experience working with our homeless.
At Wheels of Change, we take interested homeless individuals on vans to clean up trash in the community, paying them $13/hr. This past year our workers cleaned up more than 20 tons of trash! At the end of the work day, individuals may also be offered shelter and/or social services. This connection to services is a key aspect of the program. Our workers also do community outreach while working, inviting other homeless individuals to come in off the streets and to work, if they so desire.
In July 2019, with the support of the City and numerous donors, we doubled the operation of our program so that 100 homeless individuals can work per week. This will allow us to provide over 5000 work opportunities this year! The program has been a huge success. The homeless love the chance to work and, unbelievably, 56 cites have visited our program, including LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Seattle, Vancouver, etc. Wheels of Change is a win-win for the homeless, the city, and our community.
The homeless people who have worked with Wheels of Change have been hardworking and so thankful for the opportunity to work. On a recent outing, workers shared some remarkable stores with us...
We met Charles B. who told us “Not only was the day pleasant, but so were the attitudes of people in the community. Seeing their smiles of approval bolstered my self-confidence. I soon found my head lifting higher as I helped beautify the area where I used to pitch my tent. You’re causing me to have faith in humanity again! THANK YOU!!”
One quiet, gentleman coming out with WOC for the first time today told us he is going to be a new manager at a Hilton. He found 2 nice suits that had been donated, but needed to purchase a pair of dress shoes in order to start his job. He’s working today to make $52 so he can buy his shoes. He then plans “to work, move out of the shelter, and move forward with my life!”
Lauren is a woman who exclaimed that after the first time she worked at Wheels of Change, she swore to herself that she would “never do it again.” She said she’s “overweight”, that picking up trash was “hard work”, and that she even developed blisters on her feet last time. Instead of quitting, she told us that she changed her attitude, bought some walking shoes, and now comes out every opportunity she can. She's worked 9 times so far and lost 15 pounds! She’d work more if they’d let her, but due to the fact that so many shelter residents want to work, currently, each worker may work only once a week so everyone has a chance. (Our 2 vans, though, take 20 people per day, 5 days a week!)
Another woman shared that she went to visit her best friend in Las Vegas. She said she “made a bad choice”, relapsed on drugs, lost her son’s car somewhere, ended up returning to San Diego on a Greyhound bus, and now is trying to get her life back together again. She admits that she’s lost so much because of drugs-a home, family, love, now a car... However, she’s proud of herself for coming to work at Wheels of Change. “It’s preparing me for real work again. You have to get out of bed, be on time(“7:30am, not 7:31am!”), be responsible... you have to show up and do the work. Besides, it makes me feel good, cleaning up the community and knowing that I got out of bed today and am making a difference. Community members are great too-always encouraging us.” And, as if on cue, a man from a local brewery popped his head out of a large window as we were cleaning. He asked about the program and what folks were doing. He nodded approval, kindly thanked everyone for their work, and said they were welcome to come grab a beer sometime:)
And, Carla ran up to our group 4 months after we first met her, to let us know WOC inspired her to enroll in college! She’s using her money today to buy school supplies!
Proud of these folks who are helping themselves. Lauren said it best, “Most of us want a hand up, not a hand out. It’s a good feeling to earn money yourself.”️
One van operates from the Bridge Shelter downtown at 16th Street and Newton Avenue and the second van leaves from Alpha Project's newest shelter located at 17th Street and Imperial.
The vans depart daily, Monday-Friday at 8:45 A.M.
Crews' shifts last 4 hours.
Please contact Alpha Project, or visit us downtown, for more information.