People experiencing homelessness are helping King County restore ecological functions along the Green River and taking the first steps toward potential careers in conservation, the county announced this week.

The new crew, called “Green Start,” is the second launched by the Department of Natural Resources and Parks as part of King County’s Jobs and Housing Program. Crew members steward riparian and upland sites, fill the maintenance gap at completed project sites, protect forest health and critical habitat, and reduce the impact of invasive plants on protected open space.

“This program provides valuable on-the-job training to people who otherwise might not have an opportunity to work in a conservation career, or even see themselves in this field,” said Executive Dow Constantine. “These are good-paying jobs, coupled with housing and other social support, that allow people to gain competitive, marketable skills and chart a path toward self-sufficiency.”

Crew members earn between $20 and $22 per hour and potentially more based on prevailing wages.

“This is a really good program for people coming in and wanting to better themselves or learn a new trade,” said Myesha, a member of the Green Start team. “I didn’t go to school for this. So, for them to be teaching me, I really appreciate that because it’s a whole new set of skills I can put on my resume and possibly get a job higher up here.”

Here’s a video about the new project:

Green Start – Jobs & Housing from King County Executive on Vimeo.

And more info from the county:

In addition to helping King County’s Water and Land Resources Division maintain completed restoration projects, Green Start crew members lay the foundation for future restoration successes by removing noxious weeds, both of which contribute to the county’s 30-Year Forest Plan and Clean Water Healthy Habitat Strategic Plan. They also increase the capacity of the county’s Healthy Lands Project, known as HeLP.

“It’s an extraordinary step in the right direction to be able to provide this crew with substantial and meaningful work that’s going to set them up for success in the future, while also completing important stewardship work that needs to be done to address our maintenance gaps in the Green-Duwamish Basin,” said Daniel Sorenson, the Healthy Lands Project Manager.

The Water and Land Resources Division partners with Dirt Corps LLC, which is responsible for hiring, training, and daily on-the-ground oversight of the crew.

“These types of programs are not always accessible to everybody, and even if it is, it’s not often paid,” said Val Bak, a Dirt Corps Crew Leader. “While we’re giving people these training opportunities, it’s important to pay them for that work. That’s why Dirt Corps thought this was so special to give people this long-term training program that will set them up financially as well as get them ready for the next leg of their career.”

In 2021, King County Parks became the first division in county government to participate in the Jobs and Housing Program that Executive Constantine included in a COVID-19 recovery funding package approved by the County Council.

The Office of Performance, Strategy, and Budget provides overall program management and recruitment of program participants. It coordinates all transportation needs of crew members, including vanpools, ride-shares, and ORCA passes. The Water and Land Resources Division identifies work sites, develops the scope of work at each site, acquires permission from landowners, communicates with Dirt Corps, and sets expectations for work at each site.

“It’s really cool that people are getting this opportunity to not only get a job but to get help with housing. And it’s not even just housing. It’s other stuff too. I’m getting my driver’s license thanks to the program and am pretty excited about that,” said crewmember Jadon Rapoza.

Restoring ecological functions along the Green River contributes to the success that King County is making throughout the Green-Duwamish Watershed, from the recently completed floodplain restoration site known as “chock-wob” upstream of Auburn, to the mouth of Duwamish River where crews removed nearly 2,000 toxic-coated pilings from the Harbor Island shoreline.

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