AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin city officials are now funneling money into relatively new programs they believe are working to help house the homeless.

Thursday, the City Council approved spending $720,000 to expand the Workforce First program, which began last year.

The program pays people who are homeless $15 per hour to pick up trash and remove graffiti. City officials said, the participants, “who are given transportation to and from work sites, lunch and counseling services, have collectively removed 50 tons of trash from green spaces.”

Trash picked up by the Other Ones Foundation through the Workforce First program. (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)

“What we do is we get people off the streets. That’s what we do,” said Chris Baker, Executive Director of the Other Ones Foundation.

From the streets to a home

“They saved me,” said Darrell Duncan who spent about two years without a home.

He told KXAN, “I went through the first phase of their pilot program. It gave me some self-respect and feeling of responsibility.”

Baker said the program also offers supportive banking, so people can save up what they earn.

“A person can come up. They can get out of there if they want to, come out of that trauma,” said Duncan who moved less than two months ago into a place he can call home.

Baker said, the Other Ones Foundation handles the day-to-day operation, and Family Eldercare manages the funding.

But in some cases, Family Eldercare also helps with housing. “Since we started this program, 24 people are now in stable homes. They would not be in those homes without these programs. Fifteen of those people were housed specifically through Family Eldercare.”

The Workforce First program began with $58,000 in 2018. According to Baker, there have been small budget increases since then, but receiving $720,000 is a game-changer. “We’re going to immediately be able to add another 18 positions, which is going to equal about 30 additional clients on our caseload at any given time,” he said.

Right now, they have about 100 people who’ve been waiting to participate.

“More! That’s great,” said Duncan. “It’s a standing foundation that needs to be supported.”