Hire Ground program returns to help address homelessness and panhandling in Syracuse after 3-month pause for COVID-19 outbreak

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — After a three-month hiatus because of COVID-19, the Hire Ground program is back up and running.

The innovative program began in May of 2019 as a way to combat homelessness and rampant panhandling around the City of Syracuse.

In My Father’s Kitchen, which does a tremendous amount of outreach with the homeless population in the City, was picked by Onondaga County to run this program.

Hire Ground Director John Tumino likes to say the program is a hand-up and not a hand out.

Each member of the crew earns $50 for each day they work on a range of public improvement projects.

“The challenging thing was the folks that were living outdoors in the community, our panhandlers kept asking us over the last three months, when are we going to restart, when are we going to restart and we’ve been getting a lot of phone calls, because the program has really been successful,” Tumino tells NewsChannel 9.

The program is up and running again, though smaller and even safer than before to protect from the COVID-19 virus.

Tumino explains, “Using PPE for our participants as well as hand sanitizer, taking everyone’s temperature. We went down from nine participants to six to make sure that it’s safe on the van as we’re going transporting around town.”

Projects will only be outdoors now, like Wednesday’s cleanup near the Route 690 ramps around Hiawatha Boulevard in Syracuse. On rain days, they’ll have to call off, where before the pandemic, they could find indoor work.

Tumino says it’s not just the money people missed the past several weeks, and the value and dignity it brings through work, they all missed each other, and the relationships formed.

“But now here we are in a location where we have some homeless individuals that we do some outreach with and today’s day two of a new beginning,” he says.

Over 300 people have been part of the Hire Ground program, and Tumino says it’s also gotten nine people connected to permanent employment.

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