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One person’s trash is another person’s cash in San Jose through a new city program that launched on Thursday.

The Cash for Trash pilot program is an initiative that seeks to solve the city’s blight battle by incentivizing unhoused residents to collect garbage in exchange for reloadable cards from Mastercard.

“I have spoken with many homeless residents who have expressed a desire to be part of the solution,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “Through Cash for Trash, we enlist our homeless neighbors in our battle against blight while paving a pathway for future interactions that will open many of our homeless residents to services and assistance.”

The program, which has been on pause since February because of the pandemic, will now take place at 40 different sites throughout San Jose and seeks to employ 400 unhoused individuals.

So far, the city has enlisted 27 people from two different sites who collectively have gathered over 2 tons of trash.

Valerie Medina, who has been living at the encampment in Downtown’s Roosevelt Park for over a decade, is one of those 27 people.

“(B)y rolling this out within our unhoused community, we think this is going to become a tool that we can rely on in the future, even in the short term.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo

“You know, I have been picking up trash for free for a long time, so I really like being a part of this program and being recognized for what I have been doing,” Medina said. “It also gives me something to do in the day that makes me feel really good.”

She shared that many blame the unhoused population for the blight but has seen more housed residents throw trash around the park and near her encampment.

“It is not just our problem, but I am happy we are part of the solution,” Medina said. “I plan on doing this for as long as they let me.”

The program is relatively simple. Staff from BeautifySJ, an initiative started in 2017 to restore public spaces, leave green garbage bags at the sites and individuals are rewarded $4 for each bag collected for up to $20 per day.

The money is loaded onto a reusable MasterCard that can be used at select stores to buy things like groceries and other essentials.

“We think in the future there could be other uses for this card, for example, to get access to mental health and healthcare services,” Liccardo said. “So, by rolling this out within our unhoused community, we think this is going to become a tool that we can rely on in the future, even in the short term.”

The Cash for Trash program is made possible through partnership with MasterCard which has launched the “City Possible Network” — a collective of more than 200 cities across the nation that test out different innovative solutions to solve common municipality problems like blight and resources for the unhoused community.

San Jose is the first city to partner with MasterCard.

“I think the most important thing to emphasize is that this is just the beginning … we have heard phenomenal reviews about ‘Cash for Trash’,” Danielle Lam, City Possible Enterprise Partnerships Manager for Mastercard, said. “We can’t be more proud to have San Jose at the forefront of this.”

The city has also partnered with Valley Water which has helped identify the sites for the program and committed $60,000 each year for the next three years. San Jose also allocated $50,000 to the program.

“Certainly, my intent, as long as I am in office, is to continue to keep it going,” Liccardo said, emphasizing that it will be one of his priorities in office. “Obviously we would love to grow it and we have had considerable success so far.”