Something unusual is going on in the windows of Bloomingdale's SoHo this week: The mannequins, instead of being dressed in the latest summer fashions, are wearing the uniforms and holding the brooms of the men who sweep the streets and sidewalks of SoHo, picking up 15,000 pounds of trash a day.
The tribute to the SoHo Partnership, a privately funded organization that works to keep the neighborhood clean — it received a cleanliness scorecard rating of 98 out of 100 from the New York City Department of Sanitation — is on display until Sunday.
The partnership in a few weeks will make SoHo one of the city's first neighborhoods to get recycling receptacles, with three separate compartments to deposit paper, plastic, and trash. The partnership is also rolling out biodegradable trash bags.
The partnership's 50 sweepers are part of a training program for men who have become homeless. The men are paid $6 an hour for their five-day-a-week jobs, with a portion set aside for savings so they'll have money to start over when they finish the program. In addition to the street cleaning, the men take classes to prepare them for the workplace.
The Bloomingdale's windows this week offer a glamorous version of these men's lives. The uniforms — long-sleeved navy jumpsuits — have been "funked up" and "deconstructed" into "sexy little outfits," a Bloomingdale's merchandiser, Michael Walker, said. "They look very SoHo."
The brooms in the windows are decorated by students at the New York Academy of Art, and signed by celebrities such as Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jay Leno. They'll be auctioned online to raise money for the partnership.
The window tableaux have been timed to coincide with the partnership's eighth annual SoHo Stroll scheduled for Saturday, during which about 100 SoHo retailers. including Design Within Reach, The North Face, and Kate Spade, will offer 10% discounts to customers.
"I'd buy anything but the women's lingerie," a trainee in the program for nearly six months, Donald Dix, said on Friday as he swept cigarette butts off the sidewalk outside Bloomingdale's.
Mr. Dix is the partnership's most recent success story. On Sunday, he started a new job working in the kitchen of a shelter, wearing clothes he bought at Career Gear with some of his forced savings.
"I'm no longer using the money for drugs, so I can afford a few things," Mr. Dix, 48, said. He recently moved into an apartment in Washington Heights, where he grew up.
The partnership uniform was a drag at times, Mr. Dix said, especially on hot days, but he admitted it served a purpose. "It's about taking pride and responsibility for keeping the neighborhood clean," he said.
"The uniform is about humility," Mr. Dix's supervisor, Mike Williams, added. "Lack of humility is why people don't kick the bad habits."
Mr. Dix started a job out of the SoHo Partnership program once before. "But I ran into myself," he said. He lost the job after two weeks.
"It's been a long road for him," Mr. Williams said. "You see people growing professionally, you see their character change, and you can't help but be overwhelmed."
Mr. Dix will continue to get support from the partnership, in an aftercare program. The program gives graduates an opportunity to talk about issues they're facing in their jobs. It also provides social activities, such as going to the movies or bowling.
"Many of these men have been in prison for a long time. They haven't had a social life," the founder of the coalition and the SoHo Partnership, Henry Buhl, said in an interview.
Mr. Buhl goes out and sweeps with the men in the program about once a week, although he has never swept his own apartment.
"I've seen Henry out here, unshaven. He looked like one of us. He'll compliment us in a minute. He says this is just what it is. It's a step," Mr. Dix said.
The graduates are offered financial rewards for keeping their jobs at six, 12, and 18 months.
"We're proud that we are at a high of 85% of graduates in a job after two years or longer," Mr. Buhl said.
Before they get to that point, SoHo Partnership's trainees have their work cut out for them. "I think of it as pickup golf," Mr. Dix said of his sweeping duties.
The toughest shifts are in the morning: "At 8 a.m. out here, it looks like a neighborhood for the homeless, not for shoppers," Mr. Dix said.
Sweeping Broadway requires a certain agility. The sidewalks are crowded and people are moving fast.
Although it's on one of the quieter streets, Thompson Chemists, a pharmacy on Thompson Street, has benefited from the partnership.
"When we opened in 1993, there used to be homeless people outside my store and so much garbage, it was terrible," the owner of Thompson Chemists, Gary Alony, said. "What Henry has done, he's shown there's a way to help these people and also to help the neighborhood."
Mr. Alony's business doesn't get a lot of extra traffic during the SoHo Stroll, but he still believes in it — and he wishes more of the national chain stores in the neighborhood supported the SoHo Partnership.
"These are the things that unite communities," Mr. Alony said, "along with bakeries and coffee shops."