Kevin Barber may only be 16 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from helping dozens of homeless people get back on their feet again.
Barber is the instigator behind the Wheels For Change six-month pilot program that was launched in his hometown of San Diego, California.
The program pays homeless residents $11.50 an hour to perform daytime labor shifts around the city, like picking up trash and erasing graffiti. Alpha Project, the organization that started the program, then helps to connect the workers with social workers, housing, and financial advisors.
While similar projects have started cropping up in other American cities, Barber is responsible for bringing it to San Diego.
Barber first heard about the Wheels For Change initiative from a TED talk video about the positive effects that the program had had in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The young activist was so inspired by the ingenuity of the program, he contacted city officials about hosting a Wheels For Change trial run. When they said they were on board, Kevin’s mom bankrolled the expenses for the pilot.
Now, upon seeing the success of Wheels For Change in San Diego, city officials are considering financing the program in the future.
In the mean time, however, Kevin is raising money to fund the program for the 150 homeless people who are currently on its wait list.
“The program is simple,” says Kevin. “Several days a week, a van will pick up homeless people who express an interest in working. The van will take them to work picking up trash, pulling weeds, clearing brush, etc. At the end of the day, workers will be driven back to Alpha Project, or to the City’s new tent structures for the homeless, and will be compensated for their work. Here they may also get shelter arranged.
“The goal is to get the homeless connected with social services they need, into housing, and offer them the dignity of working. It empowers people and gives them work. We believe this is a win-win for the city, the homeless, and our community.”
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