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Denver Day work for the homeless
Photo courtesy: Anastacia Crowe

By James Mejia

The Denver Day Works Program is much more than just an opportunity for homeless to work. Those participating are paid on a daily basis with the hope of being placed in a permanent job. Homeless individuals who enter the program are also connected to social services and organizations that assist with food, shelter, and counseling services. The program is a breakthrough for the City of Denver which has been criticized in the past for criminalizing homelessness instead of providing basic needs.

Designed as a pilot, Denver’s program will be in place from November 2016 until October 2017. Collaborators from Denver government include Denver’s Road Home, and the departments of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and Human Services. The City selected non-profit, Bayaud Enterprises as the contractor supplying assessment, placement and management duties.

Founded in 1969, Bayaud Enterprises continues its work of connecting thousands of Denverites with challenges – mental health, physical disabilities, homelessness, and criminal history – to meaningful employment. Annually, the organization places over 400 residents in jobs.

Steve Bergin, the Denver Day Works Program Director at Bayaud is, “Thrilled to partner with the City. The support is really fantastic.” Bergin led the effort to create the infrastructure, “…to pay workers, transport them to job sites, and connect them with any necessary services to prepare them for work.” According to Bergin, “Besides just employment, there are numerous individual barriers and needs.”

Through Bayaud’s intake process, workers are assessed for work readiness. If ready, they are assigned a work site, if not, they are provided other services to help them prepare. Workers without identification are not paid but assisted with other services. Bergin and his team take some of those support and preparation services out to the field to help workers – food support, Medicaid, and housing information. Collaborator, Key Bank provides financial planning services at no cost.

By design, the program fosters a safe place to work without questioning status – immigration, criminal background, or drug use. Workers can select half day of full day work, earning $12.59 an hour plus the cost of an RTD transport ticket.

Albuquerque a Regional Model

Cities like Albuquerque through their “There’s a Better Way” campaign tout both effective giving to homeless populations and a day work program that hires homeless through the Public Works department for maintenance and beautification programs. The City of Albuquerque also connects workers to local non-profits that provide social services. Denver’s program is modeled after programs like these. Like Denver, Albuquerque had stringent laws condemning panhandling until they were forced to reverse policies because of an ACLU lawsuit in 2004. Since then, Albuquerque has pursued more creative solutions to helping homeless populations.

Mayor Richard Berry garnered national attention when he placed signs at 30 intersections asking people to call their 311 line to help homeless or donate. Over 11,000 people called the line every year, helping to connect homeless with food, shelter and services. On a daily basis, Berry sends out a work van with a city worker asking panhandlers if they would like to work for the day. It takes one hour to fill the van with panhandlers who would rather earn $9 an hour for a day’s work with the city. The success of Albuquerque’s day work program follows in the wake of their housing first program whereby the Mayor touts saving $5 million while housing over 500 formerly homeless.

Denver Working Toward Permanent Employment

The City of Denver is doing their part to permanently employ some formerly homeless who have come through the program. A particularly good fit has been hiring through the Denver Day Works Program for Parks and Recreation seasonal jobs, which are often difficult to fill. Thus far, 5 participants have been hired by the City with others in the pipeline. In another instance, Deputy Director of Marketing and Communications for Denver’s Department of Human Services, Amy Fidelis, tells the success story of Kevin who spent nights in shelters because his restaurant job couldn’t support rent. “Through Denver Day Works, we were able to connect him to a good job with a local company, and now he is using that income to save for his own apartment.”

Bergin appreciates the spirit and camaraderie the program has fostered, “This program has shown how resilient and supportive of one another participants have been.” Further he knows from experience that the program is having the desired effect, “It feels very good when we place them. They feel a little bit of hope. Sometimes all they need is the kind of engagement and support this program provides. The engagement and support moves the needle toward self-sufficiency.”

Signs are good that the program is delivering beyond expectations. The Human Services website touts “More than 4,200 hours of work and $50,000 in wages have been paid…” According to Fidelis, “…we have met results in six months that were meant to be completed in a year. Our goal was to engage with at least 300 people and connect 150 to a work experience, and in six months we’ve recruited 303 people and 129 have engaged in paid or volunteer work activities. We also already met our goal of connecting 49 participants to permanent employment.” Bergin echoes that beyond successful statistics, the spirit of the program’s intent is also being achieved, “We often hear how good it feels for putting in an honest day’s work, and success in overcoming barriers. Our clients are so appreciative of the opportunity to come and work with us and they consistently rise to the occasion. Such great attitudes. I am inspired by the folks we serve.”

Challenges remain for the program’s future. There are some ramifications including tax implications and the potential loss of food stamps because of exceeding income guidelines. “The biggest challenges are opportunities,” said Fidelis, “how to scale the program, how to continue to bring the right partners to the table, and what goals to set for the next phase of the program.”

According to Fidelis, continuation of the pilot is contingent upon a review of results, “The budget for the program was $400,000. Any future budget requests will be considered within a general evaluation of the program that will begin soon.”





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