Why not give homeless people jobs picking up trash?

As Trent Smith makes the rounds talking to property owners about a possible special improvement district in Franklinton, the number of homeless is an issue that keeps coming up. With neighborhood safety and cleanliness topping the list of ways a SID could be a benefit, Smith wonders: Why not put the homeless to work, earning pay?

“The safety aspect of it is not about pushing people out of the neighborhood, but simply making sure businesses aren’t negatively affected by panhandling at their front door,” says Smith, the executive director of the Franklinton Board of Trade. “One of the goals that we’ve been describing to folks is giving folks in homeless camps opportunities for employment. For example, picking up trash and pulling weeds is not skilled labor.”

The boundaries Smith is proposing for the SID are Broad Street on the north, the railroad tracks on the east and Rich Street on the south in East Franklinton. On the other side of Route 315, the SID would encompass the Mount Carmel West campus and then narrow just to parcels along Broad Street running west to the Franklinton Square Shopping Center near I-70. The plan is still very much in the tentative stage, he says.

“The folks we’ve talked to so far have been receptive,” Smith says. “We’re getting lots of questions [about how much money a SID could cost property owners in assessments], which we expect, but we’re getting a lot of great feedback about what property owners would like to see.”

Smith has a good personality for exploring the creation of a SID “because he doesn’t have any agenda other than working with the property owners and finding out what their issues are,” says Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of the Capital Crossroads and Discovery District SIDs. “The key in creating a SID is not to shove an agenda down the throat of property owners, but to ask them if they think there are things a collective effort could address.”

Ricksecker should know. His group is perhaps the most experienced in Ohio with special improvement districts. It’s been involved in the exploration of and legal process for creating SIDs more than a dozen times. Capital Crossroads is happy to share its documents and plans with other groups, he says, and has been consulting with Smith through Franklinton’s exploration.

Capital Crossroads will make its own rounds this summer to gauge whether property owners would like to reauthorize their SID, a process that begins more than a year before any agreement is put into place.

Within Capital Crossroads’ boundaries, crews tend to sidewalks and planted medians, there is a bike patrol and “ambassadors” will walk you to your car at night. The SID addresses its population of homeless downtown with outreach by representatives helping connect people to benefits and options for shelter.

Smith is aware of the challenges. “We’re not naive in thinking that we’re going to solve the homeless problem with this initiative,” he says. “But you know, if out of a hundred homeless folks we can impact three or four or five lives, that’s what we’d really like to see.”

The Board of Trade participated in a collaborative initiative last summer to pay residents to clean up trash and abandoned homeless camps, with the hope that homeless people could be recruited for the work. Project partners joining Smith’s group included Mount Carmel Health System and Jordan’s Crossing, a west side nonprofit group that provides clothing, food and other outreach services to people who are homeless or struggling with addiction.