SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) An alternative to panhandling called Hire Ground is now up and running in Syracuse.
The program operates three days a week and offers day labor work to homeless and panhandlers.
The Hire Ground van travels to various sites, like Clinton Square and the Regional Market, to pick up people ready to work.
John Tumino, who started In My Father's Kitchen almost a decade ago to help the homeless, also now runs the Hire Ground program.
He says, "Don't judge someone by looking at a cardboard sign, there's a story behind that sign, and I'm finding out the story that people want to work."
Tumino got the idea from a similar program running successfully for a few years now in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"I'm excited that watching them once they get on the van they become this little crew of a family and they interact well with one another and they work together cohesively just like another work crew would work," he tells NewsChannel 9.
Will East got his first shot at working for Hire Ground on Friday.
East has been homeless, struggling to find work after spending over a decade in prison.
"I'm one of the persons that want to work, I don't want to fly a sign, it's embarrassing. I want to go to work," East tells NewsChannel 9.
The program is growing in popularity so quickly that they've had waiting lists. The van can only take 9 people out into the field at one time.
Those who can't get in the van are placed on a waiting list and assured a spot on the next work day.
Tumino says, "I think the momentum is going, we've just gotta make sure we're capturing the right demographic of people. This is not a program meant just to hire people who are unemployed, this is meant to engage who are homeless and are panhandling."
Besides a payday, workers will also get lunch and an interview with a case worker to see if there are other programs or agencies that can help out with each person's situation.
"Like today we found out that one of our gentleman doesn't have Medicaid so we've called the navigators from the Salvation Army and we're going to get his Medicaid active," Tumino explains to NewsChannel 9.
He says on a deeper level Hire Ground offers an opportunity for value and dignity through work as East says, "It feels good, doing an honest days work for an honest days pay."
Hire Ground is supported by the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County.
The crews perform work inside the City of Syracuse for the City, County or State DOT.
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