Downtown Indianapolis clean-up program puts veterans to work

Downtown Indianapolis clean-up program puts veterans to work

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Veterans will serve as “street ambassadors” in downtown Indianapolis as part of a new program set on beautifying the area.

Downtown Indy Inc. says it hopes the $225,000 initiative will help clean up parts of several downtown streets.

Men and women who have served in the military will now be able to make money by removing trash from sidewalks and washing away graffiti in the Wholesale District, one of the city’s cultural districts.

The bright yellow jackets worn by the ambassadors will be a more common sight downtown for the next year.

“I’ve got a little OCD so I don’t mind cleaning up! Plus, it’s a nice job. You might find some money round here somewhere,” said Eric Guess, one of the street ambassador leads.

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The pilot program consists of six ambassadors, hired through Healthy Veterans and Families (HVAF), an organization dedicated to eliminating homelessness for veterans and their families through prevention, education, supportive services and advocacy.

Downtown Indy is providing the ambassadors with a temporary, full-time position at a $12 hourly wage.

“It’s just nice to get a thumbs up because it gives you a sense of accomplishment, you know, that you’re doing something good,” said Guess.

Leaders with Downtown Indy say they were motivated by an “increased level of concern regarding safety and lack of cleanliness in the downtown area, largely brought on by those experiencing homelessness and panhandlers.”

Tim Boruff with Downtown Indy Inc. says its important to keep the downtown area clean to make it the safest it can possibly be for the future.

“It’s important that we show ourselves as a world-class city to any outside group nationally, because we are competing with other cities for talent acquisition and economic development,” said Boruff.

The ambassadors themselves say being able to help in the initiative gives them a great sense of pride in their work.

“It’s just a sense of being an Indiana native, you know, to represent our city,” said Guess.

In the second phase of this program, the street ambassadors will receive Visit Indy’s hospitality training.

The third phase of the program will equip the ambassadors with devices to contact metropolitan police, allowing the ambassadors to report any inappropriate behavior they witness directly to IMPD.

If additional funding is generated during the pilot, the program would be able to expand to the entire Mile Square, increase the number of veterans it employs and extend beyond the initial 12 months.

The street ambassador program is not the first initiative of 2019 seeking to revamp the streets of downtown Indianapolis: In February, the Indianapolis City-County Council approved the Pathways to Employment program, which granted money toward mental health and drug treatment and gave homeless people and panhandlers the opportunity to have a part-time job cleaning up the city. Successful workers were offered the option to turn that into a full-time job with the city.