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Jason Pietrzak says a new downtown cleanup program can help street people turn their lives around. ((CBC))

A new initiative, called Downtown Proud, is putting formerly homeless or unemployed people to work cleaning up 30 blocks of Edmonton's downtown area.

The project was launched by the Downtown Business Association and Boyle Street Community Services.

"I just like being outside, and just walking around picking up the garbage," said Mark Wilson, one of five people — four men and one woman — hired for the project.

"It gets me out of my own head and makes me forget some of my problems. And it helps me earn a little bit extra."

Wilson works three hours a day, five days a week, and said the extra income is important.

"I imagine it's going to let me eat more than Kraft dinner. I'll be able to get a good meal now and then because I'll be able to afford to buy my groceries."

Cleaning up the streets is just one benefit of the initiative, said Jason Pietrzak, who supervises the project.

"They're coming from a difficult background right now, and it's going to help them develop a steady work ethic and get back into the regular workforce."

More than 20 businesses and organizations put $6,000 each into the project, including Edmonton Economic Development, Melcor, and Imperial Parking. The money is expected to fund the project for six months. Wilson would like to see it adopted permanently.

"Now I can help my city look a little better, and that's sort of giving something back." he said.