From panhandling to paychecks: 7 people get full-time jobs thanks to city’s employment program

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Seven people now enjoy full-time employment instead of having to rely on panhandling for money. This group started with 22 others as part of the city's "Pathway to Employment" program launched in May.

"Seems to us to be a fairly remarkable number," said Jeff Bennett, the deputy mayor of community development.

"When we went into the program, to think that we would have a large cohort of people who moved directly into full time employment, we were hopeful but had no data to really base that on," Bennett explained. "To see that we've had seven in less than three months just reinforces our idea going into the program that there's something here that we can adopt."

Dustin Snowden is one of the people who completed the 10-week pilot program and was hired full-time, making $15 per hour. In 90 days, he will get a $2.50 raise.

"Oh, it's changed dramatically," Snowden said of his life merely three months ago. "If it wasn't for this program, I don't know where I would be."

Snowden has been sober for two years. He recently served some time behind bars and stays at Wheeler Mission, which connected him to the employment program with the city.

"It's hard, real hard, but I'm tired of that life," Snowden said.

The Pathway to Employment program connects those who are homeless, most of them former panhandlers, to paying jobs and work skills. The group working through the program spent eight-hour shifts on beautification projects around the city. They made $10 per hour. Over 10 weeks, they collected 25 tons of garbage around the city.

"Hopefully there's a residual benefit to the community looking cleaner," Bennett said.

David Mitchell is another participant in the employment program. He panhandled his way through life for several years, but now works at Recycle Force.

"It just makes you feel like you're accomplishing something," Mitchell said. "You doing good work, you're helping out the environment."

The program's success in its pilot phase led the city to fund the program for the next year. Bennett said there are already more than 20 people on the waiting list to begin the program in the next cycle. The city allocated $300,000 to expand the program.

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