San Diego, California has the fourth-highest number of homeless people in the country. Thanks to the compassion of one 16-year-old, this population has been given a chance to find employment. Kevin Barber is the brainchild behind this pilot program. Wheels For Change was designed to provide work to the city’s homeless.
Kevin was inspired to create wheels For Change after watching a TED talk that described a similar program that helps the homeless rise from poverty and become self-sufficient. “It just looked really simple, and the statistics were staggering,” the high school junior told CNN.
Kevin’s mom, Dr. Carolyn Barber, is an emergency department physician. She regularly talks about the staggering number of homeless patients she treats. Some on a daily basis: “I see so many people who just don’t have many opportunities,” Dr. Barber told CNN.
The determined mother and son duo reached out to the city government to implement this program. Participants are paid $11.50 an hour. A GoFundMe campaign was established to raise longterm funds so it might continue.
“The program is simple. 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 possibly get shelter arranged. The goal is to get the homeless connected with social services they need, into housing, and offer them the dignity of work. It empowers people and gives them work. We believe this is a win-win for the City, the homeless, and our community.
“With 11,000 homeless people in San Diego, and 150 already on our waitlist to go out on the van, I need your help. Wheels of Change gives jobs to the homeless, helps get them services they need, and helps clean up our community. We all win!”
Dr. barber funded the first six months of the program on her own. San Diego is now considering financing Wheels For Change. Several local politicians are backing the initiative.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” City Councilman Scott Sherman told CNN.
Having the homeless clean up the city eases the burden of San Diego’s sanitation department. “It’s just so medicinal for our folks who have always been marginalized and irrelevant,” said Bob McElroy, who helps the homeless community through his non-profit, Alpha Project.
“Lord have mercy, our folks just wanted to participate,” McElroy told CNN. “San Diego is going to be spotless by the time we are through with this.”
Many inspirational stories are coming to the surface because of this program. Susan Graham thought her life had become so hopeless with living on the streets; she contemplated suicide. Then, the Alpha Project stepped in. She enrolled in Wheels For Change and has never looked back.
“To give back means a lot to me because they have given so much to me,” Graham said. “This is a miracle. I am a miracle.”