If you follow the local news in San Diego, you’re aware our city is struggling with serving the homeless population – there are more than 11,000 people living on the streets, and the recent Hepatitis A outbreak reached crisis proportions.
Kevin Barber ’19 has found a way to make a difference in the San Diego community. Committed to helping the homeless, inspired by an innovative program
, There’s a Better Way, in Albuquerque, N.M., and encouraged by his mother, ER doctor Carolyn, Kevin is helping launch a new job development program for the homeless in San Diego, called Wheels of Change.
The program is simple; partnering with San Diego’s Alpha Project, a nonprofit with more than 30 years’ experience serving the homeless, the Wheels of Change van will pick up homeless individuals who express an interest in working. The van takes them to worksites, where they pick up trash, pull weeds, clear brush, etc., for an hourly wage. At the end of the shift, the van takes the workers back to the Alpha Project or to one the of the city’s bridge shelters. In addition to the dignity and empowerment of work, the connection to services and shelter are key components of the program. Participants are so enthusiastic, there’s already a three-week waiting list to join. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Councilman Scott Sherman have given their strong support to Wheels of Change; more than a dozen major cities across the U.S. have launched similar programs, including Austin, Texas; Chicago; Denver; Lexington, Ky.; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle.
It all started when Kevin watched the TED Talk by Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry
. At the end of the twelve-minute presentation, Mayor Berry asks, “So, who’s next? Are you ready to think differently about these persistent social issues?” Kevin was ready, and convinced his mom to take him to Albuquerque, in order to learn more about the program, how it works, and how it could be replicated here. He then spent six months fundraising; they purchased the van, donating the vehicle and the initial funding for the pilot program.
Kevin and Carolyn recently visited the 300-person homeless tent structure downtown, and Carolyn treats homeless people in the ER. She notes, “Some folks are depressed, with little positive going on in their lives. We really think if we give the homeless a chance to work and have purpose, it might help restore their sense of dignity. We do need help sustaining this program over the long term. Please consider a donation to Alpha Project.”
Watch KUSI’s coverage of the Wheels of Change launch, and Councilman Sherman’s interview here.
Hear what one Wheels of Change participant has to say about the program here.