Over the next year, the city of Denver, Colorado will try something new. While some people will consider this outrageous, others will wonder why we’ve never tried this before: the city will make paying jobs available to the hundreds of homeless people without jobs.
The Denver Day Works Program started November 1st and is expected to run until next October. The program will offer day-by-day jobs to the people who are currently living on the streets. The work will be for the city and will include park maintenance, planting trees, and clearing snow.
Spokesperson for Denver Human Services, Julie Smith said: “We want it to be low to no barriers. No background checks. Do you want to work? We’re going to put you to work today.”
“The goal is to engage about 300 people,” said Jenna Espinoza, spokesperson for the Mayor of Denver, Michael Hancock. The city is hoping that about half of those people will participate regularly and that eventually some of those people will move on to more permanent long-term jobs with the city of Denver, or elsewhere.
This is just a test run, so it may not work out, but it also may turn into something much, much bigger and encourage other cities to follow suit! The participants will be paid a starting wage of $12.59 an hour, which is actually quite a generous hourly wage. Participants can choose between a half a day and a full day of work.
The program will only allow each person to earn a maximum of $600. After participants reach that number through the program, they will hopefully be connected with more permanent jobs through Bayaud, which includes work in the private sector or for the city. This should keep the participants from having to file with the IRS.
Executive director of Bayaud Enterprises, David Henninger, says “It’s a stepping stone.”
Participants will be provided with all equipment that they might need, including gloves, eye and ear protection, and will also be provided with lunch. KeyBank will also provide help with financial planning for those who require it.
A participant in the program, Danny Tims, says the project is “Off the chain. It’s super, I’m very happy.” Danny learned about the project about a week ago and was planting trees for over $12 an hour, noting that that’s fairly high above minimum wage.
The work that will be made available to the homeless population of Denver is currently being done by full-time workers for the city, or volunteers; no one currently working in these positions will lose hours or wages.
“It’s creating new work – it’s not like we’re getting rid of our city employees to bring on these folks,” said Espinoza.
The city of Denver has budgeted about $400,000 for the first year of the Day Works program. An estimated $100,000 of that will go toward the wages for participants involved and the rest will pay for the supervisors and other overhead, according to Henninger.
“This is basically built on the premise of supported employment,” Smith said. “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.”
City officials are hopeful that this could help with the homelessness problem in Denver. Not only can it encourage them to get up everyday and be contributing members to society, but it could eventually lead to them being able to rent out a place, get off the streets, and be able to provide for themselves.
Prior Success With Employing The Homeless
Albuquerque, New Mexico started a very similar program last year and has already noted some major improvements in the city’s homeless population. This program is called “There’s A Better Way,” and started with a van dispatched around the city to pick up panhandlers who are interested in working. This program pays $9 an hour, which is again, above minimum wage, along with lunch, and at the end of the shift shelter is offered as well.
In just over a year since it began, the program has given out 932 jobs and cleared 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks. More than 100 people from the program have also been connected to permanent employment.
“You can just see the spiral they’ve been on to end up on the corner. Sometimes it takes a little catalyst in their lives to stop the downward spiral, to let them catch their breath, and it’s remarkable,” Albuquerque Mayor, Richard Berry said in an interview.“They’ve had the dignity of work for a day; someone believed in them today.”
Projects like these will help to break the social stigma that people who are panhandling or begging for money are either drug addicts or too lazy to work. Most panhandlers who were approached in Albuquerque with the offer to work were extremely eager for the opportunity to actually earn some money. According to Berry, they just needed a helping hand. One man told him no one had said a kind word to him in 25 years.
Hopefully, this initiative to help the homeless get back on their feet instead of shaming them and arresting them for trying to make a few dollars will inspire other cities around the country to do the same thing! It has proven to be an extremely effective way to help the homeless get a fresh start in life and contribute to their cities!