OneBlock Employs Men Impacted by Homelessness to Help Clean UWS

The first paid employees of OneBlock.

By Lisa Kava

OneBlock, an organization that allows Upper West Siders to “adopt” one neighborhood block to clean up twice weekly, has experienced incredible growth and evolved from an all-volunteer group to one that is currently employing three men who were homeless.

Through a contract with The Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE), a nonprofit that helps provide support and job training to those impacted by homelessness, OneBlock hired the men to pick up trash on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues and Broadway.

“The men are now receiving a full set of services through ACE and have access to a 401K and health care through this job,” Jake Russell, OneBlock’s founder wrote in an email to West Side Rag. But OneBlock needs funding in order to continue to employ the men and is counting on the Upper West Side community to help, Russell said.

The story of OneBlock began in August 2020 when Russell, a Texas native-turned Upper West Sider, noticed he was constantly stepping over garbage when walking around the neighborhood he now calls home. Determined to change this, Russell set out to mobilize his neighbors to pitch in and regularly clean up trash from just one block each. Upper West Siders jumped at the chance to help. The number of volunteers grew at lightning speed, increasing from 70 at the end of August to 1,600 as of October 24th.

Ann Cutbill Lenane and Jake Russell, partners in clean.

Early on, OneBlock caught the eye of an influential go-getter, Douglas Elliman real estate broker, Ann Cutbill Lenane. Lenane, whose nickname is “Annie Gets It Done” is dedicated to taking swift positive action. Intrigued by Russell’s idea, she reached out to him privately after joining the OneBlock Facebook group.

“I loved Jake’s idea and I wanted to help the community that has been so much a part of my life,” explained Lenane. “I’m focused on action and getting things done. Jake and I met for tacos that night and it has been ten weeks of getting things done.”

Lenane and Russell are now partners in OneBlock. Together the duo designed T-shirts and hats, secured trash bags and organized group clean-up days to pick up trash and foster team building.

Russell and Lenane noticed that 98% of OneBlock volunteers had adopted streets that ran from east to west, missing the avenues, which “had been hit hard with trash.” Realizing there was an opportunity to fill in that gap and help those in need of work at the same time, they reached out to ACE. Through this partnership, OneBlock has been able to assign the clean-up of Columbus Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway to their three new employees. “We wanted to give those who have experienced homelessness good jobs, while cleaning up the streets on the Upper West Side,” said Lenane. “It is a win-win.”

Lenane is covering the salaries of the three men for their first month of employment (October.) Additional funding is crucial to ensuring the long-term viability of the program. Lenane and Russell have launched a fundraiser which they hope will enable OneBlock to continue to employ the men.

For one of the men, this is his first job in over twenty years, Lenane told WSR. “He said he feels welcomed by the community and is inspired every day to keep sober and his job.”

“To make these jobs sustainable and know that the Upper West Side will stay clean, we need Upper West Siders to make regular commitments,” Russell said.

OneBlock can be found at www.oneblockuws.org; on Facebook; and on Instagram.

To donate towards salaries and supplies for the ACE employees click here.

NEWS | 23 comments | permalink
    1. Uws gal says:

      This is wonderful. Maybe the John Doe Fund can also employ some of the homeless folks.

    2. Ben David says:

      This is wonderful! It demonstrates that our elected officials from the Democratic party prefer BLAMING Upper West Siders who want clean streets and safety, instead of providing solutions, as One Block is doing. Thank you, One Block, for stepping in where our local leaders have failed!

    3. AC says:

      I rather donate to this organization than to NYC and NYS Tax Department! Keep up the good job.

    4. Susan says:

      This is a good idea. All physically able men in the shelters and hotels should be participating in community service and/or working paid jobs.

      • Lee says:

        Putting aside the merit of your proposed policy itself, may I ask why you single out men for the work requirement?

      • More than half of all homeless people already do work. Many have various disabilities or are too old. The DHS requires the homeless to apply for public assistance; the HRA requires them to work or look for work. This is nothing new.

    5. Pat Sawin says:

      This is a great idea perhaps it will spread.

      I do t have a voice like ACE has hers an idea for a lot and f these people nationwide why not hire people to help rebuild our infastructure like Rosevelt ( God I can’t spell tonite) but u get the idea spread it!

      • Boris says:

        The problem is lack of willing labor. I have plenty of friends who run manufacturing businesses and construction businesses who cannot attract workers. Walk around UWS plenty of help wanted adds! A neighbor wanted to hire a cleaning woman – the three people interviewed wanted $150 for three hours of work in cash, so the neighbor decided to clean herself.

        • Peter says:

          How much do they pay? Minimum wage jobs and nyc costs dont add up. Plenty of employers are hiring part time at minimum wage. What’s the point? Plenty of people who have these wonderful jobs you speak of live in homeless shelters.

          • boris says:

            I do not know how much jobs on UWS pay. I can tell you that one of my friends in NJ is offering $35+ per hour, as well as medical insurance for his construction business and cannot get general laborers. He installs fences, so it is not a very highly skilled job like say electrical or plumbing. I know plenty of people who make $20 per hour and live in their own apartments on Staten Island and commute to Manhattan for work. I think it is the combination of very generous social programs and also right now closed schools.

            • Peter says:

              Please be more informed. You dont know how much the jobs pay. Also these guys dont live in some random part of Jersey and cant drive to work there. The people on Staten Island making 20 an hour probably have rent stabilized apartments. These are homeless guys who have all their worldly possessions in a backpack. They literally have nothing. Amazing how people really dont get the situation there guys are in.

    6. chow says:

      Can we do a GoFundMe page for One Block?

    7. Perhaps a local attorney can assist pro-bono with filing an IRS 501(c)(3) application for not-for-profit status. Once approved, OneBlock would be able to apply for grants from foundations, corporations, and government, and individual contributions would be tax-deductible.

    8. Chris W says:

      This is great. Keep up the good work! And good job to WSR for continuing to keep OneBlock, and the good work they do, in focus.

    9. joan Chiverton says:

      This is such a great idea. I’ve seen them out there and they are working so hard and really seem to care.

    10. Robin says:

      Thank you Jake and Anne! for your efforts in helping both the neighborhood and those in need of work.
      It’s heartening, especially now, to read this kind of story.

    11. viv says:

      Didn’t the Dove Fund do the same thing for many years?

      • Homeless New Yorker says:

        The Doe Fund. It shelters homeless people, puts them to work picking up trash in blue overalls, and pays them a “stipend”, about $5 an hour. Its CEO is the highest paid in the NYC homeless industry, at more than $500,000 a year.

    12. Joyce Mann says:

      You guys are great. I am doing a story for our Block Association newsletter- on one of your volunteers – Mark Smith- who lives on our block, West 104th. Happy to hear that you are thriving. I hope my article will help spread the word.

    13. beverly nadler says:

      is this a 501c3 organization