KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Have you noticed litter along the highways, and maybe in your neighborhoods?

Kansas City, Missouri, city leaders know it’s a problem.

It’s why the city has launched a new $300,000 one-year pilot program, hiring houseless people to “Clean Up KC.”

“We’ve just been cleaning up the city,” said Clean Up KC contractor Melissa Grosko. “We’re just moving right along, getting a lot done.”

Grosko is one of five members of the newly formed initiative. It is joint effort between the city’s public works department, Creative Innovators and Hope Faith Ministries, which provides shelter and assistance.

“We’re putting together people who are houseless, or recently have been houseless, at $15 an hour and as a byproduct we’re doing beautification in Kansas City,” Hope Faith Executive Director Doug Langner said.

Grosko knows that struggle all too well.

“I became homeless a couple years ago and have been kind of hopping from couch to couch,” Grosko said. “I really look forward to getting back on my feet.”

Not just for her, but for her two kids who want to see more of their mom.

“It’s going to be amazing to have them sleep over, just to be able to unlock my door and lock it behind me and not have to worry about where I’m going to sleep at night,” Grosko said.

Fifth District City Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw chairs the Houseless Task Force.

She said there are more than 700 identified unsheltered people in the city, and that number has doubled since last year. She believes it is in part a product of the pandemic, which she says disproportionately impacted marginalized communities.

But she says the biggest reason is the lack of affordable housing.

“Our data shows that we’re about 28,000 units short for housing stock,” Parks-Shaw said. “Of course, if those people don’t have a place to live, they’re going to be on the street.”

Fifteen people will be hired for the team, which will handle snow removal in winter.

Grosko knows this is a second chance.

“Little things like hanging my clothes in a closet and not pulling them out of a backpack, things like that,” Grosko said. “I look forward to that.”

When workers like Grosko are ready for more, the Full Employment Council will help with job training and placement.

“[I want to] work full-time again, drive a car, have a key to my own front door,” Grosko said.

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