The city of Denver will try something new over the next year: It will make paying jobs available for hundreds of people experiencing homelessness.
The Denver Day Works Program started Nov. 1 and is set to run through next October. It offers day-by-day jobs to people on the streets. The work will be spread across city government and might include tasks such as maintaining parks, planting trees or clearing snow.
“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,” said Julie Smith, spokesperson for Denver Human Services.
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“The goal is to engage about 300 people,” said Jenna Espinoza, spokesperson for Mayor Michael Hancock’s office. The city hopes that about half of those people will participate regularly, and that some will go on to long-term jobs with the city or elsewhere.
This is a pilot, meaning it may or may not turn into something bigger. People who participate will be paid as soon as the day is over, with wages starting at $12.59 an hour. Participants can choose between a half and a full day of work, Espinoza said.
However, each person can earn a maximum of only $600 cumulatively through the program, Smith said. The idea is that those who succeed will be connected with more-permanent jobs through Bayaud, including work in the private sector or for the city. That limit should also keep participants from having to file with the IRS.
“It’s a stepping stone,” said David Henninger, executive director of Bayaud Enterprises, the contractor that will run the program.
Participants will be provided equipment, such as gloves and eye and ear protection, and will get lunch. KeyBank will provide financial-planning help for people who get involved.
The project is “off the chain,” said Danny Tims, who learned about it through a park ranger a few weeks ago. He was planting trees for more than $12 an hour on Wednesday, noting that’s far above minimum wage.
“It’s super,” he said. “I’m very happy.”
Much of the work in question is currently done by full-time city staffers or volutneers. No one currently working for the city will lose hours, Espinoza said.
“It’s creating new work – it’s not like we’re getting rid of our city employees to bring on these folks,” she explained.
Denver has budgeted about $400,000 for the first year of Day Works. About $100,000 of that will go toward wages for participants, with the rest paying for supervisors and other overhead, according to Henninger.
Update: For additional details on the program and where the money will go, check out our follow-up article.
“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.”
The city has not formally tried to do something like this anytime recently, but city staff do occasionally hire people who are living outside.
The program was particularly inspired by parks director Scott Gilmore, whose department hired a man who was frequenting one of its parks this year. The city also has been consulting with Albuquerque, N.M., which has a similar program.
Denver Day Works will “truly put our city to work,” Mayor Hancock said in his address to the media on Wednesday. “We know … job experience can be a first step to a renewed life.” It’s “holistic support”
Kevin J. Beaty contributed to this report. Thanks for reading! Subscribe to our newsletter.