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Mayor unveils 90-day action plan to connect squeegee kids to employment, education

a window washer soaps up a window for window washing
Aqua Mechanical/Flickr
A person cleans a car windshield with a squeegee. On Tuesday, Mayor Brandon Scott announced an action plan to bolster support for squeegee kids, the city youth that clean motorists’ windshields in hope of tips at busy intersections throughout Baltimore.

Mayor Brandon Scott announced a 90-day action plan to provide alternative employment and health, education and housing resources to the city youth that clean motorists’ windshields in hope of tips at busy intersections throughout Baltimore.

The plan, made public Tuesday, includes a partnership with Canopy by Hilton in Fells Point. The hotel will train 10 city youths in a variety of roles, from restaurant work to hospitality services. Before the kids start at Canopy, they’ll spend three weeks with employment mentors and the Mayor's Office of African American Male Engagement, or MOAAME, learning how to navigate the workplace.

“We have to make sure that we are sending young people who are prepared for the jobs that we provide them and that we're connecting young people to opportunities where they can actually grow,” said Faith Leach, the Deputy Mayor for Equity, Health and Human Services.

Leach said that at least 18,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 in Baltimore are “disconnected” — that is, they are not connected to school or work. Most of them are boys of color.

Squeegee kids, whose presence at busy intersections have ignited fierce discourse among residents, tourists and commuters for years, are “the physical manifestation of poverty and the physical manifestation of a really bigger issue of disconnected youth,” she said.

Leach said the city’s previous attempts to connect members of this group to employment have been about 50% successful. The workforce training and mentorship will bolster their accomplishments in the workplace, she added.

Since early 2020, the Mayor’s Office of African American Male Engagement (MOAAME) has identified 186 squeegee kids. The office has helped 43 of them return to the classroom, secured identification including birth certificates and social security cards for 29 youth, hired 27 youth to hand out meals as part of the city’s pandemic response, registered 73 into YouthWorks, placed 39 into permanent employment and connected 50 to mentors.

"This will build on the great work that's already being done," Scott said at a news conference. "This plan is about making intersections safer for everyone involved and connecting young folks to employment opportunities, while also providing the support that they need to deal with whatever is going on in their lives."

The city aims to connect with kids already on the corner through biweekly events at intersections during rush hour. Representatives from City Schools, Mayor's Office of Homeless Services, the health department, nonprofit and employer partners will bring resources directly to youth, aiming to connect them to services.

“For those youth who are school age youth, our main objective is to connect them back to school,” Leach said. “Once we're able to connect young people back to school, then there are opportunities for us to provide different incentives for them to continue to go to school. We're checking their attendance, we're checking their academic progress.”

The Scott administration also will launch the Young Black Men and Boys Cabinet, which will consist of community, nonprofit, philanthropic and academic leaders. The group will recommend additional intervention for squeegee youth.

Poverty and lack of economic opportunity are what compels kids to squeegee at busy intersections, Leach said.

“Young people report to us that they need to make quick cash because they need to feed their families who are dealing with food insecurity or are raising their siblings. Some have children of their own,” she said. “Squeegee is the most low barrier activity they can do to make money, and in their mind, it's not a harmful activity.”

In early 2022, the city will launch a pilot program to offer disconnected youth daily stipends for working day jobs throughout the city. Details are still being ironed out; Leach said that the city may pay youth directly and have the program’s employers make a donation to the Civic Fund.

She says she hopes this program will entice youth who can’t wait the several weeks it takes to get a paycheck at other programs, like the Canopy partnership or YouthWorks.

“If you need formula for your baby sister, then even if you are connected to Canopy, you're still going to go squeegee because you need money in your pocket today,” she said.

She noted that the city’s ultimate goal is to help youth develop the financial stability that allows them to wait for a paycheck but that officials need to do a better job of meeting young people where they are.

“I want us to see their humanity. These are young people that are suffering,” Leach said. “I really want us as a city to wrap our arms around these young people.”

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.