Aid for the homeless got a boost with the City of Sierra Vista and the Better Bucks of Sierra Vista receiving $52,250 from the Arizona Department of Housing’s Homeless Grant.
Grant funds will be managed by Better Bucks of Sierra Vista, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seeks to provide Better Bucks vouchers for meals and essential items and services that can only be redeemed at local businesses in Sierra Vista. Sierra Vista that can be distributed to those who need it.
SVPD Cpl. Scott Borgstadt, who also serves as chairman of the board of directors for Better Bucks in Sierra Vista, said the ADOH funding will go to their new “Better Work” program, which helps homeless people look for work and housing.
“One day a week, a couple times a month, they go out and do some light landscaping and basically clean up trash on state-owned land or city property,” Borgstadt said. “They will be paid in cash by Better Bucks at the end of the business day. We will provide them with a meal and also give them the opportunity to have a shower after their day’s work at the Good Neighbor Alliance.
Those who participate in the program will be paid $14 per hour, or up to $599.99 per calendar year according to the nonprofit’s website, plus transportation, lunch, and water provided, and will have the opportunity to connect with housing services and employment opportunities.
“We won’t refer them to these contractors until they’ve shown us that they can do the job, that they can come clean and not under the influence, they get paid in cash,” said Eva Dickerson, the vice board chair at Better Bucks. “And then once they hit a certain limit, which is just under $600 a year, and as they get closer to that limit, we’ll refer them to different employment services and other resources they can use in the community to help keep them – hopefully – out of homeless camps and make them valuable members of our community.”
It said the $599.99 limit is to keep the program’s monetary rewards tax-free for participants.
Cindy Stotler, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Housing, said the department awarded the inaugural grant funding to the city of Sierra Vista for the nonprofit Better Bucks because they were impressed with the scale of the program.
“And we were so impressed that a small rural community like Sierra Vista was doing something this large to address homelessness in their community,” Stotler said.
He said the department has received a total of $10 million dollars from the Arizona state legislature for their homeless grant. Of that $10 million, he said five cities have received funds so far, including Sierra Vista, Flagstaff, Tucson, Glendale and Phoenix.
“It’s almost all over. I think there’s $700,000 left of the $10 million,” Stotler added.
The inspiration for the program was to go beyond Housing First initiatives and help the homeless get back into work.
“He started thinking more about employment with homeless services instead of just shelter,” Stotler said. “Once they start working, they realize they can work. And so they’re more open to those employment services, job connections, that we’re offering as well.”
Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller said he is excited about the program and is grateful for ADOH’s assistance in its launch.
“We are thrilled to see the success Better Bucks Sierra Vista has had with its voucher program and appreciate the support of the Arizona Department of Housing in implementing the Better Work program,” Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller said in a statement. e-mail. “This volunteer program will put people experiencing homelessness on the path to meaningful employment, giving them confidence to work toward a better future.”
Stotler said the department hopes to continue the grant program if it receives funding from the legislature. Borgstadt said the Better Work program will launch in 2023.