For the homeless, it’s a tough challenge to secure a job with reliable income — the very thing these individuals need in order to afford the housing they lack. The city of Denver has developed a practical solution: launched on November 1st, its Denver Day Works initiative invites people living on the streets to complete government maintenance jobs for a sizable wage of $12.59 per hour, surpassing both the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and Colorado’s minimum wage of $8.31.
Participants might be tasked with snow removal, tree planting, or other upkeep and beautification at city parks, which means they’re simultaneously cleaning up the public outdoor spaces they often inhabit. They’re allowed to choose either a half- or full-day option, and they’re paid at the end of each shift. They’re also provided with lunch, any necessary equipment, and resources like financial planning assistance.
The barriers to entry are intentionally low. Though there’s a pre-assessment process, no background checks are required, and participants unable to provide official identification can be paid with gift cards. Any interested parties who are deemed unable to work because of problems like addiction are connected with services like counseling and Medicaid, to better ready them for the job market.
There’s one catch, which is that each participant is entitled to a cumulative maximum of $600 in earnings between now and the program’s completion in October 2017 (though this means they’re not required to file with the IRS, which is a plus). Regardless, Denver Day Works will hopefully impart a valuable stepping stone. “This is basically built on the premise of supported employment,” explains Julie Smith, spokesperson for Denver Human Services. “You need more than just a place to work. You need supervisors and managers that understand what it is you’re going through, and you need case-management services to get connected to other types of programs.” Bayaud Enterprises, the nonprofit employment agency serving as the program’s contractor, will aim to connect successful participants with more permanent jobs in the longterm, whether for the city government or in the private sector.
For now, the program is a pilot with the aim of eventual expansion. Its first-year budget totals $400,000 via DHS, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, and Denver’s Road Home, with $100,000 going towards participants’ paychecks and the rest spent on supervisors and other overhead costs. The goal is to recruit at least 300 people, and so far, interest is so high that there’s actually a waitlist.
One of the early beneficiaries is Danny Tims, who was recruited by a park ranger several weeks ago. He calls Denver Day Works “off the chain” and says, “It’s super. I’m very happy.” His positive comments reflect the program’s uplifting psychological effects, not to mention the practical ones. Another is 52-year-old Kirk Foyle, who was previously a construction worker but is currently unemployed and living on the streets, due to a brain hemorrhage and concussion (and accompany high medical bills) resulting from an assault. On the program’s launch day, he was one of 17 tasked with planting trees at Denver’s Civic Center Park — and planting seeds for a new life of increased stability, security, and contribution.
Source: Denver Post