By EMILY OPILO, The Baltimore Sun
BATIMORE, Md. (AP) – Employment program that pairs former “raclette kids” with hospitality jobs to be launched by Baltimore next month as city implements raclette action plan 90 days.
The employment program, which will be offered in partnership with Canopy by Hilton, provides vocational training to 10 young people in the city who have worked as raclette kids, city officials said last week. They will work at the Canopy Hotel in Baltimore’s Harbor Point, alternating between the positions of bellhop, housekeeping staff and working in the hotel’s restaurant, Cindy Lou’s Fish House.
The program and accompanying action plan are part of a coordinated initiative by the administration of Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott to find alternative employment for young people who work at busy intersections and clean windshields for money.
The presence of squeegee children on the streets of Baltimore has been a flashpoint for years. Drivers unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with the practice often complain about young people, sparking outcry from businesses in the city who depend on visitors. But city officials say their presence is symptomatic of poverty in Baltimore and should be treated with better social supports.
“It’s about figuring out how we can support what they need, so they don’t get led into begging, which is basically what raclette is,” said Faith Leach, deputy mayor of Baltimore for equity, health and social services.
Baltimore officials have identified at least 180 young people in the city who squeegee, though there are likely more. This group includes several demographics: school-age children under 18; young adults, approximately between 18 and 24 years old; and a less common group of slightly older adults.
When engaging with the younger group, the goal is to reconnect children to school, Leach said.
The employment program, which will be launched in mid-December, targets the average population. Outreach officials have selected young people who they believe are ready for another job, and they will attend a month-long pre-employment training first, Leach said. City officials will also use this time to connect young people with any services they may need, such as housing or mental health support.
The group will then move on to work full-time for Canopy by Hilton, with a commitment from the city to cover their wages for up to six months. An effort will be made to find permanent jobs at the company for interested participants, Leach said.
Young participants must commit to quitting scraping for the duration of the program, she said.
Leach said the city is looking for more employers to participate in similar programs, but employers need to understand the challenges of working with squeegee children, she said.
“Young people who choose to scrape present themselves with a number of challenges,” she said. “A young man lived in a vacant house. Imagine being 20 years old, you have nowhere to go and you live in a vacant house.
The announcement of the employment program coincides with the release of the city’s 90-day raclette action plan, which calls for increased children’s awareness of raclettes.
During the first 30 days of this plan, which will take effect immediately, the city will hold awareness events every two weeks at busy raclette intersections, bringing in representatives from the Baltimore School’s re-engagement program, services city social and nonprofit organizations to interact with raclette kids.
Traffic control officers will also be deployed at known squeegee intersections, and city officials will inspect cameras in those areas to ensure they are working to record any possible incidents, the plan says.
Within 60 days, Scott’s administration hopes to set up a cabinet of young black men and boys to organize community conversations and make recommendations to the administration on how to increase intervention efforts for children of squeegee.
The action plan calls on the city to launch a pilot program that will offer same-day payments to young people who hold various jobs in the city. Squeegeeing offers quick cash, Leach said, while a traditional job can pay off every two weeks. Many kids who raclette don’t have the luxury of waiting for a paycheck, she said.
“They are going there to fend for a dollar because they need to buy diapers or take food home for their families,” she said.
Leach said efforts are being stepped up now as the holiday season approaches. Research has shown that the holidays are often the most stressful time of year for people in poverty, she said. The city has also seen an increase in activity in recent months, she said.
“Many are trying to meet their basic needs,” she said. “They can have young children, they can have families.”
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