Jobs for the homeless
Three months ago, Elizabeth Espinoza was living on the street with her family and working at a fast-food restaurant in Arlington.
Espinoza, 37, believed she could do better.
Today, Espinoza is one of a growing number of homeless people who are participating in a new employment program in Fort Worth which is striving to provide job training and career opportunities for what some officials are calling the “overlooked” population.
Waste Management and its Innovative Employment Pathways have partnered with Fort Worth’s Clean Slate DFW, an enterprise of the Presbyterian Night Shelter, to form a program to help the homeless with jobs.
“We are very big in community partnerships,” said Tamla Oates-Forney, senior vice-president and chief human resources officer with Waste Management in a recent telephone interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “In this one, we’re out to help the overlooked and under-served in a community.”
The partnership, which started in June, features one of the largest companies to contract with Clean Slate DFW in recent years.
“I just wanted a better job,” said Espinoza, who grew up in South Texas, moved to North Texas and had two sons. “I heard about Clean Slate and Waste Management so I decided to give them a shot.”
She isn’t alone.
In Tarrant, volunteers counted more than 2,000 people as homeless one night in January 2018, according to the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. That was a 5 percent increase from 2017.
In Texas, there are more than 20,000 people homeless, according to the most recent statistics from the homeless assessment report by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.
One of the main reasons for homelessness was financial issues, which included unemployment and the inability to pay rent, TCHC officials have said. Officials noted financial issues were the main reasons for people becoming homeless, but there also were other reasons.
Clean Slate DFW has operated for three years and has contracted with more than 30 Tarrant County companies for part-time and permanent jobs such as commercial janitorial services, litter pickup and workforce staffing.
Clients who join Clean Slate get employee benefits such as health, dental and vision care, paid training, housing support, finance classes, counseling and transportation to and from work.
“We have 11 vehicles for transportation,” said Danny Carter, director of business operations at Clean Slate DFW. “Basically, we work around the clock.”
Waste Management officials began researching the partnership with Clean Slate DFW in March, then started it on June 24.
“We wanted to be sure the safeguards were there,” Oates-Forney said.
In the pilot program, clients are hired part-time for 90 days, and the jobs include working on the garbage trucks picking up large bulk trash or as sorters at a recycling center.
Clients are assessed after the 90 days, and they have the opportunity for permanent careers as commercial drivers, technicians or customer representatives.
If someone wants a career as a driver, they’ll be trained by the company.
Espinoza was one of eight homeless people who joined the new program in June. Since then, six to eight clients have joined each week.
“I started out in bulk trash working 7 am. to 7 p.m.,” Espinoza said. “It was good, hard work.”
But within two to three weeks, Espinoza moved to Waste Management’s recycling center.
“With my family, I couldn’t work those long hours,” she said. She works at the recycling center from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. “I like it better there because I don’t have to lift such heavy objects.”
At the recycling center, safety is first, Espinoza said. She noted that sorters are required to exercise 10 to 15 minutes before their shift starts, each sorter must wear protective gear from head to toe and no one can work on the line without having a water bottle.
“On real hot days, they have frozen popsicles for everyone,” Espinoza said. She remains in the program, but she was on medical leave.
Espinoza believes she has a future with Waste Management.
“I want to be driver,” she said. “I think I can become a garbage truck driver.”