Wheels of Change: a Teen Empowers the Homeless and Cleans Up San Diego

Wheels of Change is a work program for the homeless that a teenager, Kevin Barber, launched with Alpha Project and Mayor Faulconer in San Diego, February 2018. Kevin was recently featured on CNN’s “Champions for Change” series. Through his “Wheels of Change” program, Barber empowers homeless people to work their way into better lives by earning fair wages cleaning San Diego’s public spaces. The young activist coordinates with city officials and shelters to grow the program and adapt it to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Along the way, San Diego’s citizens benefit with a cleaner city, polished up by homeless people who are also polishing up themselves and feeling relevant again.

With over 11,000 homeless individuals on our streets, a recent Hepatitis A outbreak, and a mom who is an ER doctor working with the homeless, Kevin wanted to do something. He helped create “Wheels of Change”, modeling it after a successful job program in Albuquerque, NM. It is now run by Alpha Project, who has more than 30 years experience working with our homeless.

In 2017, Kevin Barber, then 16 years old, founded Wheels of Change, a pilot program that pays homeless men and women $11.50 an hour to clean city streets throughout San Diego. The city embraced Barber’s program as a way to tackle its homeless crisis and beautify its public spaces. Barber told CNN that he was inspired to create Wheels of Change after watching the mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico describe a similar program in a TED Talk. “It just looked really simple, and the [homelessness] statistics were staggering,” Barber told CNN.

From their website we read: Our work at Wheels of Change is focused on the homeless. They are hardworking and have been so thankful for the opportunity to work. On a recent outing, workers shared some remarkable stores with us. We met Charles B. who told us, “Not only was the day pleasant, but so were the attitudes of people in the community. Seeing their smiles of approval bolstered my self-confidence. I soon found my head lifting higher as I helped beautify the area where I used to pitch my tent. You’re causing me to have faith in humanity again! THANK YOU!!”