By James Taylor

ELK GROVE, Calif. (CBS13) — One of the most common complaints about homeless camps is all the trash that is left behind. The city of Elk Grove in Northern California has developed a unique way to get the homeless to clean up after themselves. It’s an unusual idea: the city is paying them to keep their camps clean.

“As far as I know, we are the first,” said City of Elk Grove Housing and Public Services Manager Sarah Bontrager.

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The homeless can now cash in by bagging up trash —  helping eliminate the eyesore that encampments often create. “We need to reduce the amount of public complaints that we’re getting,” said Bontrager.

“We’d go there, it would just be a massive mess, we’d spend hours just cleaning and cleaning, but now we go there and their bags are ready,” said Elk Grove Police Department Homeless Outreach Officer Jennifer McCue.

“I was shocked, in all honesty,” said homeless resident Ashley Ross.

The city now pays people like Ashley with $20 gift cards each time they tidy up their tents. “Just because I’m homeless doesn’t mean I don’t care,” she said.

“They actually don’t like to live like this, so having that sense of community and pride keeping their area clean has really shown,” said McCue.

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So, what’s the pricetag of this project?

“The cost of running this program for over a year has been under $10,000, when we might have run through that in one month previously just doing the regular cleanups,” said Bontrager.

There have even been some unexpected benefits. “What we’ve discovered with our incentive program is that we’re actually building relationships,” said McCue. “They’re excited when we come every other Wednesday for junk and rubbish cleanups.”

And it’s an idea that’s now getting attention in other cities.

“We’ve had other jurisdictions that have expressed interest in creating a similar program just looking at the savings that we had and the impact on our community,” said Bontrager.

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The Cares Act and the U.S. Department of Housing And Urban Development are paying for the program.