Program pays people experiencing homelessness to pick up trash in Portland

Author: Christelle Koumoué (KGW)

PORTLAND, Ore. — The city of Portland and local nonprofit Trash for Peace launched a pilot program in February of last year to assist people experiencing homelessness. The program is Ground Score Association and it pays people to pick up trash in Portland for $20 an hour and has prove to be successful.

“I didn’t want to have to go beg people for help or ask people for help,” explained Angela McGuire. “So it was really hard for me at that point I was hitting rock bottom.”

That’s when McGuire first heard about the work program that involves picking up trash in different parts of Portland.

McGuire meets up with her crew about twice a week. They gear up for the day equipped with trash bags, litter grabbers and more before they get to work.

“We pick up furniture, seats out of cars, shopping carts, you name it, it’s out here,” said McGuire.

The areas they usually clean up are near or around homeless camps, a place where McGuire said she almost ended up in. She couldn’t afford to buy food or the motel where she lived.

“Which was a huge amount, I mean it’s over minimum wage and I’ve only worked minimum wage jobs ever, my whole life, so that was like a big boost, I was like 20 bucks an hour year, I can do that,” said McGuire.

People work in coordinated shifts to pick up trash in neighborhoods across Portland. They focus on public pathways near or around homeless camps and campers can pick up shifts to help clean up the area.

Many people have come up to McGuire to get a shift lately, to the point where they had to be turned away.

“I’ve had anywhere from 5-7 people come out trying to get a shift,” she said.

She has been with Ground Score Association for about a year and she’s been able to move up the ranks.

“I lead the crews out here help hire the people that work for us at the camps,” explained McGuire. “I made $22 an hour for that now I’m up $25 dollars an hours as a coordinator.”

Since its launch, the city of Portland has spent approximately $445,000 on the program. It’s run by the city’s Homeless and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program. Staff have requested the city council approve funds to keep the program running through the next fiscal year.

That’s promising news for Barbie Weber, co-founder of Trash for Peace.

“As an organization we are basically the hands extended out we came from the same places so we meet them in the middle,” said Weber who has been homeless most of her life. “I was living in a tent across the street from sisters of the road when the organization first started,” she said.

When Weber moved into a tiny home three years ago, the stability and security of a roof over her head made a huge difference and she knew it could for others as well.

“What saves lives is opportunity, these opportunities are just the start of being able to build something from the sidewalk up,” said Weber.

Ground Score Association currently employs 30 people like McGuire.

“I started school, I went back to school for accounting, working on my Bachelor’s,” said McGuire.

For now — she’s at Hazelnut Grove, a tiny home village in North Portland and hopes to eventually move into her own place.

As she comes back week after week to make a difference in parts of Portland, McGuire is also clearing a better path for her life.

“I feel good to say it, I’m proud of where I’m at right now,” she said.

Trash for Peace also has contracts with Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services, Lloyd Business District and Central Eastside Industrial Council.

In the fiscal year 2021/2022 they collected over 680,000 pounds of trash.

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