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Denver Day Works program for homeless continues to inspire

Sometimes in our editorializing we promote a public program we really hope will succeed while secretly worrying about its chances.

Such was the case more than a year ago with a plan from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to offer homeless folks chances for day work. When it comes to finding helpful solutions for this community, challenges beyond anyone’s control abound.

“What a refreshing idea to help tackle Denver’s homeless problem: Provide jobs with decent wages to those willing and able to work,” we wrote back then.

Happily, it turns out that the mayor’s refreshing idea is doing some good. As The Denver Post’s Jon Murray reported this week, in its first year the Denver Day Works program employed 284 people for at least one day, with all but 10 continuing work for longer periods.

In fact, 110 of the participants found full-time work, the great bulk of them with outside employers.

The goal had been to put at least 150 people to work. Participants worked planting trees and moving mulch on city landscapes, helped out at the Denver election offices, and swapped out old lighting for LEDs at the Denver Public Library’s main building. They were paid better than $12 an hour, and got a free meal, sometimes from restaurants that donated food.

The program takes all comers and only invites back those who put forth the required effort.
Social workers are available to help with addiction recovery or counseling and other assistance. The program also seeks to connect its workers with housing providers.

No, the day-labor approach won’t work for everyone. The challenges that confront the homeless and the challenges they in turn create are vast. Of the 110 people who found full-time work, only 57 kept their jobs longer than 90 days. But it’s worth repeating that one of the best ways of beating poverty is making money, and for those willing and able, such a plan makes good sense and is a safer bet than some other day- labor opportunities.

Out of the gate the program offered three shifts a week. Now its contractor, Bayaud Enterprises, is gearing up to offer a fourth day and plans to start a fifth day later in the year.

Hancock said of the participants: “They are hungry for the opportunity to work hard to achieve their personal dreams and to take their self-sufficiency in their own hands.”

We offer our continued praise for the workers and those helping to improve their lives. We’re so glad the shelf life for this refreshing idea has a future.

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