CINCINNATI -- Jim Cira has shared his story under overpasses and on street corners.
He used to struggle with addiction, but now he uses his story to help people experiencing homelessness.
Cira, Jobs Van program manager for GeneroCity 513, drives his van around Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and other areas of the city, looking for people holding signs or anyone he knows who is experiencing homelessness.
Cira picks up people off the street and takes them to different areas of the city so they can work for the day. People usually help with beautification efforts, like cleaning up parks and picking up trash.
People who participate work for $45 a day and a free lunch. The Jobs Van provides a sense of community, Cira said, and it allows him to connect people with resources they might need, like employment opportunities and access to treatment.
Cira said his past experiences are important because they make people trust him more.
“I’m not just some guy from the suburbs,” Cira said. “I have a backstory, something they can relate to. Just because mine might be alcohol, and theirs might be heroin or crack, it’s the same thing. It’s the same situation.”
Cira says he hopes they use the money for something worthwhile, like socks or a cell phone so they can stay in touch with prospective employers. But he sometimes worries the money could fuel an addiction.
“Being out there with them, you can see them struggling with addiction … I do worry and I pray for each one of them, that they have a change of heart.”
Bobbie Sue works with Cira. She said she’d much rather work than hold up a sign because it “doesn’t crush your pride.”
“You’re actually doing something for the money, rather than getting something for free out there begging,” she said.
Cira uses the time people are working to connect with them and meet them where they are with what they need. Above all, Cira said it’s important to make people feel like they’re wanted and needed.
“That's what I want to do … say, ‘I love you’ and be a part of this,” Cira said.
Click here to learn more about GeneroCity 513.