San Jose ‘Cash for Trash’ program pays homeless to pick up trash

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — In San Jose, homeless residents will now get paid to pick up trash around the city through a new pilot program. 

The “Cash for Trash” pilot program operated under the BeautifySJ initiative will pay homeless residents $4 per bag to pick up trash at encampments in exchange for programmable and reloadable cards from Mastercard. 

“We’ve had really both issues quite honestly for years, one being illegal dumping and just trash and blight that’s all around the city, no different than other major cities, it’s certainly an issue we’ve been trying to deal with,” said Raul Peralez, San Jose District 3 Councilmember. 

“But the other issue we’ve been having that is ongoing is with the growing homeless population and unsanctioned encampments,” Peralez added. 

“It’s not uncommon for our unhoused community to partake already in cleaning up, what is unique about this obviously is now they’re going to get paid to do it, so there’s a huge incentive.”

With the unprecedented outbreak of the coronavirus — the program delayed its launch earlier this year but will now take place at 40 locations throughout San Jose.

BeautifySJ crews will be distributing Cash for Trash bags at each location — where participants can turn in up to five bags for a total $20 each day —  which will be then loaded onto a Mastercard City Key card. 

Funds loaded on the Mastercard can be used to pay for essential items with limited restrictions on items like alcohol and tobacco. 

“What that really did is provide the kind of avenue for us to be able to pay folks, we couldn’t pay people to literally go out and give them cash,” said Olympia Williams, BeautifySJ Program Manager. 

“We wanted to find what’s a unique way that we could get people paid immediately but also get people more engaged and give them access to banking,” Williams added. 

“It also allows our staff to engage with residents that live in encampments with the goal of not having people live in encampments forever … but really to form those relationships and help to do a warm handoff to our other programs and services in our department of housing that really works to move people from homelessness into housing.”

In addition, the program is operated through the city’s COVID relief funds with another $60,000 a year in grants for the next three years from Santa Clara Valley Water.

Since starting back up less than a week ago, the program has already signed up nearly 40 participants. 

Mayor Sam Liccardo tells KRON4 News the program serves more than giving out money but an effort from the city and local partnerships to step in and help its homeless residents. 

“We thought of this Cash for Trash program really as an easy way to help folks get a few bucks in their pocket while they’re helping all of us to beautify our city in a time where we know there’s a lot of trash and blight out there as a result of what’s going on with the pandemic,” said Liccardo. 

“What all this shows is certainly that yes, this program can work, people clearly are willing to do whatever it takes to help themselves, get a few bucks in their pocket to be able to be contributing members of the community,” Liccardo added. 

“More than the money, more than the trash, this is about dignity, it’s about giving our unhoused population a reason to believe that we actually care about them being part of our community.”

BeautifySJ was launched in 2017 by Mayor Liccardo to clean up and restore public spaces through the help of volunteers in the San Jose community.

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