San Jose’s ‘Cash for Trash’ Program Will Pay Homeless People to Clean Encampments

One person’s trash is another person’s cash in San Jose.

The Cash for Trash pilot program seeks to solve the city’s blight battle by incentivizing unhoused residents to collect garbage in exchange for reloadable cards from Mastercard.

“I have spoken with many homeless residents who have expressed a desire to be part of the solution” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “Through Cash for Trash, we enlist our homeless neighbors in our battle against blight while paving a pathway for future interactions that will open many of our homeless residents to services and assistance.”

The program, which had been on pause since February because of the pandemic, will now take place at 40 different sites throughout San Jose and seeks to employ 400 unhoused individuals. So far, the city has enlisted 27 people from two different sites who collectively have gathered over two tons of trash.

Valerie Medina, who has been living at the encampment in Downtown’s Roosevelt Park for over a decade, is one of those 27 people.

“You know, I have been picking up trash for free for a long time, so I really like being a part of this program and being recognized for what I have been doing,” Medina said. “It also gives me something to do in the day that makes me feel really good.”

She shared that many blame the unhoused population for the blight but has seen more housed residents throw trash around the park and near her encampment.

“It is not just our problem, but I am happy we are part of the solution,” Medina said. “I plan on doing this for as long as they let me.”

program is relatively simple. Staff from BeautifySJ, an initiative started in 2017 to restore public spaces, leave green garbage bags at the sites and individuals are rewarded $4 for each bag collected for up to $20 per day.

The money is loaded onto a reusable MasterCard that can be used at select stores to buy things like groceries and other essentials.

“We think in the future there could be other uses for this card, for example, to get access to mental health and healthcare services," Liccardo said. “So, by rolling this out within our unhoused community, we think this is going to become a tool that we can rely on in the future, even in the short term.”

The Cash for Trash program is made possible through partnership with MasterCard which has launched the “City Possible Network”—a collective of more than 200 cities across the nation that test out different innovative solutions to solve common municipality problems like blight and resources for the unhoused community.

San Jose is the first city to partner with MasterCard.

“I think the most important thing to emphasize is that this is just the beginning ... we have heard phenomenal reviews about ‘Cash for Trash,’” Danielle Lam, City Possible Enterprise Partnerships Manager for Mastercard, said. “We can’t be more proud to have San Jose at the forefront of this.”

The city has also partnered with Valley Water which has helped identify the sites for the program and committed $60,000 each year for the next three years. San Jose also allocated $50,000 to the program.

“Certainly, my intent, as long as I am in office, is to continue to keep it going,” Liccardo said, emphasizing that it will be one of his priorities in office. “Obviously we would love to grow it and we have had considerable success so far.”


  1. We’re paying people to pick up their own trash? Can we get some of Saratoga Sam’s wealthy parents’ money for that instead of making SJ taxpayers work harder and pay more taxes?

    How about we arrest anyone who litters in SJ instead of rewarding them for it!

  2. Sounds like slave labor. If these homeless are actually working then they should be getting paid cash. I assume that this reloadable Mastercard only allows you to buy goods and you can’t get cash.

    I agree that people should pick up their own trash. How about finding the homeless that really are willing to work paying them something like $150 to $200 a day to do real cleanups such as the creeks. Before you say $200 is too much for a day’s worth of cleanup then go some of these sites and say if you would be willing to do it for less than $200.

  3. “Through Cash for Trash, we enlist our homeless neighbors in our battle against blight” — Sam Liccardo

    Enlist? Isn’t that a euphemism for employ? How much does an “enlistee” earn per hour? What are the benefits? Will those enlisted reflect the city’s racial demographic? What happens to enlistees who strain their backs picking up trash, or get stuck with hypodermic needles? Is disability coverage available? Will all of California’s labor laws be respected?

    How about some answers, Mayor Progressive.

  4. > Will all of California’s labor laws be respected?

    Excellent point, Mr. Elli. May I call you Phu Tan? Or do you prefer just Phu?

    It sounds like the City may be loading up on gig-workers.

    Didn’t Big Labor just blow a lot of member money on a doomed ballot measure to stamp out gig workers?

    I echo Mr. Elli’s question. Are the health and welfare and workers comp and retirement of San Jose’s (and North America’s) homeless bums NOW the responsibility of San Jose taxpayers?

    Who do I complain to?

  5. How about not making housing so expensive here so people can afford housing and build up emergency savings?

  6. I think this is a fantastic program – it’s productive and alliviates a big problem. The ones working are not the problem – they are the future of the solution. Thank you

  7. Yo Sam, will you pay me to not hold a sideshow? How about ten bucks for not running a stop sign? If I cut my grass do I get paid?

  8. You are again wasting tax payer money. Put them in a military type camp, provide them what they need, they are all over the city, it looks like a third ? country, have some balls.

  9. They are committing crimes all over the city, and now you want to pay them, are you nuts, no balls, your city workers can’t cleanup the trash, they are lazy workers trash all over the city streets, we need a Mayor with balls.

  10. Bottom line littering, dog and human pooping fines should be higher and seriously enforced. The city would make some money and people would think twice before littering. It’s really a trickle down effect if everyone from people in power to our all amercan worker did what they were supposed to be doing which is their jobs and assuring others doing their jobs we’d be better off. It takes all of us to make it work. We are only as strong as our weakest link.

  11. Great, so those of us who are responsible get to pay hundreds of dollars a year to have our trash picked up. The homeless get to pill up trash on public land and then you will pay them to throw it away.

    Total makes sense, in an alternative universe.

    Looks like the city has given up trying to actually enforce laws anymore on the homeless. Come to San Jose and let the taxpayers take care of all your needs.

  12. > How about not making housing so expensive here so people can afford housing and build up emergency savings?

    Hmmmm. I never thought of that.

    I’ll write a letter to the housing czar and ask him to lower housing prices.

    Do you know the housing czar’s mailing address?

    And, who is the housing czar?

  13. What a joke! Let’s pay the very people who pollute our streets and neighborhoods with trash to clean up their own mess! Let’s foster, and enable addiction that runs rampant with the homeless, let’s give them cash for alcohol and drugs just to continue the cycle!! This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of.

  14. Yes, keep deleting my posts!
    Let’s pay the very people, who litter our streets and neighborhoods with trash and debris, to clean their own messes. Let’s continue to foster and enable their rampant alcohol abuse and drug use by paying them cash!!! Let’s perpetuate the vicious cycle!!! This has to be one of the best ideas Mayor Liccardo has come up with! Kudos to you Mr. Mayor.

  15. Pay the homeless $200 a day to clean up trash they leave behind?
    Just a thought, how much do we pay city employees to pick up trash and clean the city+ benefits+ medical+ employee union problems. On the other hand 2/3rds of the homeless really should be incarcerated or institutionalized costing even more than paying them. That other 1/3 could use a job and a hand up getting back into being a useful member of society.

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