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Dirty Work

Cleaning up the streets of Seattle with a streetscape management agency

This story appears in the May 2000 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine.

"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."

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