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July 19, 2018

Portland businesses extend panhandling-to-work program with $13K donation

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
The Portland Opportunity Crew received $13,000 from 12 local businesses and one nonprofit to keep running through the rest of the summer. Shown at Tuesday's press event (from left) are President Jack Lufkin and CEO Quincy Hentzel of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce; Portland City Councilors Kim Cook, Belinda Ray, Nick Mavadones and Pious Ali; and Mayor Ethan Strimling.
Photo / Renee Cordes
Matt Pryor, of Portland’s Health and Human Services Department, drives the Portland Opportunity Crew in this vehicle, which was parked outside City Hall during Tuesday’s presentation. It displayed logos of local businesses that have provided financial support.

The Portland Opportunity Crew will stay busy this summer.

That's the name of the city's panhandling-to-work program that just received funding for 10 additional weeks from a dozen local businesses and one nonprofit.

Brought together by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, they donated $13,000 to keep the program running for the rest of the summer. The chamber presented the amount outside City Hall on Tuesday with a symbolic oversized check.

"Through the combined efforts of the city, the chamber and most importantly our local businesses, I'm proud to announce the Portland Opportunity Crew will continue to be functional and funded throughout the summer," said Quincy Hentzel, the chamber's CEO.

She said the workforce initiative aims to provide job training and support services to individuals seeking a pathway to employment and economic security and helps make city parks and trails safer and cleaner through the labor of all those participating.

Portland launched the initiative last year, run by its Social Services and Parks divisions, as a pilot program that offers panhandlers the chance to earn a daily wage by cleaning up public areas while linking them with job training and support.

Hentzel said that 24 individuals so far have taken part, and thanked all those present at Tuesday's event for their support, generosity and leadership.

Portland Crew Members are paid minimum wage — $10.90 an hour in Portland as of July 1 — and get a bagged breakfast and lunch on work days. The crew puts in two days a week for six hours. Six participants a day are involved, driven in a van to and from the work site by Matt Pryor of the City's Health and Human Services Department,

On the sidelines of Tuesday's event, Pryor told Mainebiz that it's been gratifying to see crew members gaining confidence and taking pride in their work, although one fellow standing to the side chose to keep a low profile.

City Manager Jon Jennings told the gathering that he's "lucky to be city manager of an incredibly welcoming city, where we really care about the people that we serve."

"The extension of the Opportunity Crew is in order to give people hope for the future," he added. "That you don't have to spend your life or your time on the street corner asking for money or in a shelter. We want to help provide you with a future."

Donors who contributed to the $13,000 are: Allspeed Cyclery & Snow, Bayside Bowl, David Wood Clothiers, Gritty McDuff's, InterMed, Old Port Wine Merchants, the Press Hotel, Renys, Union Bagel, Verizon Wireless, Verrill Dana, Vitalius Real Estate and Portland Downtown.

In addition to the $13,000, the City recently received donations of $5,000 from the Maine Community Foundation via a member and $500 from a local family for the program.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said the goal is to eventually raise enough money to operate the program year-round and to make it "even stronger and serve more people."

For $1,300, local businesses can hire the Portland Opportunity crew for a week. For more information, contact Aaron Geyer at 207-482-5131 or aeg@portlandmaine.gov.

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