“Let’s get to work,” declares Tommy Wells, to no one in particular, loading empty garbage cans into a white pickup. “Make it a great day! Ladies and gentlemen. And it’s raining.”
It sure is, a few minutes before 6 a.m., coming down hard. Some 60 men and women in identical baseball caps and gray vests trimmed with neon green gather in a large garage on South Ashland, waiting, snatches of conversation reflecting areas of the city that tourists never visit.
“They wasted that boy — shot him in the face three times,”
“This world just going crazy. It doesn’t matter where you go. In Chicago? It don’t matter where you go. Crime is everywhere.” But not here. Here crime and homelessness, drug addiction and despondency are held at bay, thanks to the organization whose name is on those vests and hats: “Cleanslate” — operated by Cara, a social service program that since its founding in 1991 has paired more than 10,000 jobs with what it tactfully calls “individuals with high barriers to employment” — felons, recovering drug addicts, all manner of people taking their first tentative steps away from the street.
The work is not elegant.
“Mainly cleaning up sidewalks and curbs, some landscaping,” says Enise, 33. She’s worked a year for Cleanslate, which asks that workers’ last names not be used, so this first rung doesn’t hold them back higher up the ladder.
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