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Fort Worth business keeps people experiencing homelessness employed during pandemic shutdowns

Upspire is looking to expand and is bracing for a wave of evictions.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Picking up trash from waterways isn’t an easy or fun job, but it’s a job, and that’s what Frank Crist needed.

“Basically, the first place that would hire me,” Crist said.

Homeless and recently out of prison, he applied to dozens of places before Upspire gave him a chance. 

“It gives them an opportunity because when you’re homeless, people don’t really want to hire you, because you don’t have a permanent address,” Crist said.

The company runs through the Presbyterian Night Shelter in Fort Worth and hires people experiencing homelessness for contract work.

Crist is now off the streets and mentoring new hires. 

“I try to encourage them,” Crist said. “I tell them that if they want to get on their feet that this is the first stepping stone.”

Trash has been a booming business during the pandemic. Workers find everything from cans to tires and shopping carts.

Kirsten Ham leads Upspire, which cleaned up nearly 77,000 pounds of trash last year. That’s more than the weight of three school buses. Littler is one of the four companies Upspire runs, along with landscaping, janitorial services and commercial staffing. Combined, there around 115 employees.

“We’re really just here to give people the opportunity that they need in order to earn an income to move out,” she said.

Last year, Upspire helped 89 people move out of homelessness and helped 45 people join the general workforce.

Upspire also provides health insurance. Now, they’re bracing for a wave of pandemic evictions and trying to expand by selling branding on the sides of their trucks.

“We’re just growing this a little bit at a time,” Hank Dorris said.

Like Upspire, Dorris’s Specialty Packaging business selling to quick-serve restaurants has worked through the pandemic, and he’s funding a handful of the workers.

“They’re really working hard. This is backbreaking work, and no one takes a day for granted,” Dorris said. “We just wanted to make sure that we continued with the litter pick up program and it hasn’t stopped or slowed down a bit.”

Crist calls the job rewarding but said he wishes it was a little tougher to find trash. 

“Didn’t think about trash along the roadways or anything. Now I see it all,” he said. “It’s a mess.”


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