Doing a little math, we can see that $365,971 a year for 340 service hours per week comes down to a cost of $20.70 per hour of service from the Downtown Ambassador Program. This seems like a lot of money for mostly under paid employees. On top of that, the program seems to have no explicit goals other than improving "panhandling, nuisance issues, cleanliness and wayfinding." There has got to be a better way to deal with these issues than hiring an outside company, that doesn't pay its workers well to provide para-security services to Downtown Ann Arbor.
The issue of homelessness in Ann Arbor and specifically homeless camps came up at last nights's Ann Arbor city council meeting. While I know Ann Arbor and Salt Lake City are not perfectly analogous, I think it is worth noting that Salt Lake City adopted a program to provide some of its chronically homeless citizens with housing at a cost of approximately $11,000 per person per year. The city calculated that the Housing First program saved money through reduced costs on shelter, ER, ambulance and police services used by some chronically homeless. I know the causes of and solutions to homelessness are complicated. That said, it's worth noting that for the proposed amount Block by Block will charge per year to the DDA for its para-security force, approximately 30 homeless Ann Arborites could be housed.
I don't think the Ambassador Program is a good idea. If there is a great need to address issues like "panhandling, nuisances, cleanliness and wayfinding" in the downtown core, then we should come up with plans to address those issues and hopefully not contract that out to some outside company. Gentle readers, I'd be interested in knowing what your thoughts on the proposed Ambassador Program. I would especially welcome comments from folks who think the program is a good idea, or those who think there is a great need to address panhandling, nuisances, cleanliness and wayfinding in downtown. You can also share your thoughts on the program with the A2DDA here.