Sunday, August 20, 2000

Homeless find work cleaning ballpark in Cleveland

The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — Dozens of men and women pick up trash with their hands during the late night hours after Cleveland's visitors have long gone home. But it's not on the streets. These night owls are homeless people who work until dawn cleaning Jacobs Field after baseball games.

        “Instead of picking cotton bolls, we're picking trash from under the seats,” said Alexander Hamilton, working a low row in right field. “It's the same thing. Look. Have you ever seen pictures of people picking cotton? Take a picture of me picking cotton in the city.”

        Mr. Hamilton, who is homeless, is paid minimum wage by Minute Men, a temporary work agency hired by the Indians. After the work is done, he and other trash pickers walk more than a mile to the agency for their paychecks.

        “I'll have $27 in the morning, clear,” he said. “That beats nothing.”

        The Minute Men night crews gather outside Jacobs Field late in the game and wait for the crowds to depart and the boss' call to line up. About 150 people show up to work.

        The workers are divided into color-coded teams. Each wears a numbered sticker the color of his or her team. The Red Team works the lower box seats from foul pole to foul pole. Blue works the upper deck; green, the bleach ers.

        “Don't get behind! Don't get behind!” shouts supervisor Thomas Ballentine. “You get behind, you got a whole lot of catching up to do.”

        The pickers bag larger trash like cups and wrappers. They are followed by a brigade with leaf blowers that blow peanut shells down to the bottom rows. When the pickers finish, they sweep the bottom rows with brooms.

        It takes between six and eight hours to clean the stadium. The shift can be longer if it rains because the soggy peanut shells stick in clumps. Pickers are paid minimum wage — $5.15 an hour. Blowers get $6. None receives benefits.


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