February 15, 2019

This Denver program gives homeless individuals a job, and a pathway to a stable future

Here are three stories on how local innovation can make a difference in everyday lives.

Denver Day Works provides low-barrier employment for adults experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. In this edition you will learn about a low-barrier employment opportunity in Denver, a group of teens who are making a difference in the Bay Area, and an accidental fairy godmother in metro D.C. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at info@therenewalproject.com.

The dignity of work: A program from the city of Denver is giving homeless individuals a chance to earn two square meals and a daily paycheck, all in a day’s work. Denver Day Works connects adults experiencing homelessness with employment opportunities in the city—cleaning up litter, landscaping, and other low-barrier jobs around the city—all for $12 to $13 an hour. Those who sign up get breakfast and lunch, bus fare to get to the work sites, and counseling from job specialists. They also get their paycheck after each shift.

In the two years, Denver and its nonprofit partner Bayaud Enterprises, have helped 145 people find permanent employment.

Cities that struggle to combat homelessness are experimenting with a low-barrier employment model. Many point to former Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry as the brainchild of the concept. He helped his city launch the “There’s a Better Way” initiative in 2015. That year, he spoke with PBS NewsHour about the program: “I was driving in my car one day and I was at the stop light and there was a gentleman holding a sign that says, ‘will work.’ So I came back to the office and I told my staff, ‘We’re going to take these folks up on their offer.’”

Last year, we featured an essay from San Diego high schooler Kevin Barber who was inspired by Mayor Berry and launched Wheels for Change with help from his city’s mayor in 2018. Kevin even wrote about meeting Mayor Berry and how important it was to learn from him and others around him: “If you have a good idea, be bold, establish clear goals, and take action. It also helps to surround yourself with smart people with experience who become a good team, contribute, and make things happen.”

Sharing stories, spreading hope: On the one year anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, another group of teens are sharing their experiences with violence. The teens attend Castlemont High School in East Oakland, California, and are members of an Oakland-based violence intervention program called Youth ALIVE! While they haven’t experienced the kind of mass shooting that garners lots of media attention, the shooting rate in certain Oakland neighborhoods averaged to about one homicide per week. Now, they’re speaking out in the hopes of increasing the spotlight on their cause.

“We might not see all of our friends die at the same time, but we’re definitely seeing people fade away to the same fate, just on multiple occasions,” Gabriel Patten, 18, told NPR. “You’re like, I just hope I make the right decisions today.”

A lightbulb-moment: After one fateful shopping trip in 2015, Dana Marlowe of Silver Spring, Md. had a eureka moment: “Homeless women need bras.” After that realization she began “I Support the Girls,” a nonprofit that provides women in need with bras and personal hygiene products. In the past four years she’s donated more than half a million bras and 2.5 million personal hygiene items.

Then at the beginning of 2019, Marlowe had a new group of women who needed her help—federal employees affected by the government shutdown. She was able to support nearly 100 women, mostly single parents, whose finances were stretched especially tight during that month without a paycheck.

“A bra is one of many small luxuries that most women take for granted,” Marlowe told the Washington Post, “and if you don’t have these things, you think about them all the time. To take away that worry for as many women as possible is what keeps me going. It makes all of the long hours and hard work worthwhile.”

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project is Allstate’s platform to support local problem solvers who are strengthening their neighborhoods block by block.