New King County program connects the homeless to jobs tending parks

KING COUNTY, Wash. — The homeless crisis across the Puget Sound region has been framed around finding, building and getting people into housing.

But another aspect was highlighted Wednesday morning when King County Executive Dow Constantine spoke about the county’s new Jobs and Housing Program.

Recruitment events were held at emergency shelters to offer people without homes a chance to join King County Parks Beautification Crews, earning salaries that can help them move to permanent housing.

The program uses pandemic recovery funds to put people to work restoring and enhancing regional parks and trails.

“We really have to be persistent about charting that course to economic recovery, particularly for those who were most impacted by the economic fallout,” Constantine said.

“We knew it was essential that our financial investments serve those who’ve been harmed most by COVID-19,” King County Council member Joe McDermott said.

James Johnson, who is homeless, said he’s found a path tending to King County parks.

“It was just a good opportunity to get back on my feet,” Johnson said. “I love it. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Johnson said the job will help him get out of homelessness.

“Doing it on your own is kind of hard. Doors get closed on you all the time, you get “no’s” here and there. I think it’s easier to go in there knowing that you have the help,” Johnson said.

Members of the work crews are also connected to case managers who will help people in the program find and transition to more permanent housing.

King County is working to expand the program to other county services, such as logistical support for emergency management, sanitizing fleet vehicles, and providing customer support for animal services.