Program offers jobs to the recently homeless while keeping Downtown Miami beautiful

Published On: Apr 22 2013 07:19:13 AM EDT
Updated On: Apr 22 2013 01:50:38 PM EDT

The Downtown Enhancement Team is working with Camillus house to clean up graffiti in downtown Miami.

MIAMI -

The Downtown Enhancement Team (DET) is a partnership with Camillus House and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). The 9-month employment program helps those emerging from recovery and homelessness to build a resume and get back into the routine of life while complimenting the city’s efforts to crackdown on litter and graffiti.

Richard Sargeant is a member of the Downtown Enhancement Team, “I went from staying on these streets to now I come to work every day and clean these streets.”

PHOTOS: See the Downtown Enhancement Team at work

We caught up with Richard at the start of his shift.

“Every morning what I do is I come out, check the streets, I look for graffiti or stickers that need to be repainted. What my goal is to make downtown look better than the way it was when I found it.”

Richard explained how some sweep the streets; others are tasked with enhancing landscaping or repainting fire hydrants. Richard’s primary task is graffiti removal, a point of pride that’s become a bit of a passion. “I notice it everywhere I go even when I’m not at work. I have a relationship with a lot of these downtown business owners, they know my face and they go 'hey it’s the graffiti man!'”

Each DET member has a powerful back story; they are all clients of Camillus House.

“When I was 28 my mom passed away from cancer.” Richard told Local 10’s Christina Vazquez. That was the “excuse” he used to spiral into more than a decade of substance abuse and stints of homelessness, “I was lost for a long time.”

After 12 years he turned to Camillus House, “they showed me that they loved me when I didn’t know if I loved myself.” With their help he completed treatment and applied for the Downtown Enhancement Team, a competitive 9-month employment program. It’s a gig that Camillus House’s Sam Gil explained helps the recently homeless reintegrate into society, “basically building up a resume, showing up on time, knowing how to report, doing all these things we take for granted. This is an important step in their recovery.”

In the five years the program has been in existence Gil said they have graduated roughly 200 people from DET, the majority of which have stayed gainfully employed elsewhere. Two of the program’s supervisors are former Camillus House clients who are also DET alum.

The program is managed by the Downtown Development Authority or DDA. Cesar Garcia-Pons explained how the partnership started.

“The City of Miami used to have a team that swept the streets,” when the city pulled back due to budget cuts the DDA decided it wanted to offer business owners and residents in the area “enhances services” to keep the streets pedestrian-friendly and clean. Thus the idea of a Downtown Enhancement Team was born with DDA tapping into Camillus House as a way to put that vulnerable population back to work. Garcia-Pons said the DDA pays for their salaries, “the DDA is made up of the people who live in the district so it’s actually the district who is” picking up the tab.

Richard is close to graduating from the DET program with a promising future. He’s enrolled at Miami Dade College earning a degree in computer networking, has a relationship with his daughter and a paycheck. “Sky’s the limit today,” Richard said with a large grin, “I couldn’t say that a little over a year ago.

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