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Dirty Work

Cleaning up the streets of Seattle with a streetscape management agency
- Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the May 2000 issue of Startups. Subscribe »

"Um, excuse me . . . a man just peed on our door. Can you help?" Calls like these (or worse) are standard at Seattle streetscape management agency CleanScapes Inc.--owner Chris Martin's answer not only to street and park upkeep, but also the unemployed homeless situation. He doesn¹t stop there. By donning himself and his 18 employees (some homeless, some not) in uniforms complete with radios and neon-yellow vests, and occasionally teaming up with off-duty police officers, they become an eminent presence on the street. Didn¹t know guys with brooms could be intimidating, huh?

The former advertising exec had dabbled in 'cuff 'em and stuff 'em' public policy, but never social service matters. Then, an awakening: "I live in [Seattle district] Pioneer Square, an area with a lot of shelters that's often considered dirty," says Martin, 32. "Every time I'd go to community meetings to ask why these people didn't work, they said it was because no one would hire them. So it seemed reasonable to do something that would solve one tiny portion of their problems."

In the summer of 1997, Martin pitched property owners with his seven-day-a-week clean-up service. The Pioneer Square Community Council, CleanScape's partner at start-up, put in a good word for the company and lent Martin $300 for equipment. Martin's personal investment of $700 and advanced payments from customers launched the venture in October.

"In the next decade, a lot of people will start sharing our frustration with the social service system and, perhaps, go back to the civilian conservation core model," says Martin. "We're going to try to recreate that--have housing, meals, everything all in one place for people who just cannot exist in mainstream life at this particular time." Don't think helping homeless employees get back on their feet keeps CleanScapes from turning a profit. With sales of $380,000 in 1999, Martin projects $520,000 this year.

Contact Source

CleanScapes Inc., www.cleanscapes.org;

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