Hiring unhoused people to clean up parks
Colorado Sun, Tamara Chuang: 3:47 AM MDT on Jul 25, 2023
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When city budgets got slashed during the pandemic, Denver’s Department of Parks and Recreation felt the pain and was unable to hire the usual crew of seasonal workers. That’s when the nonprofit Civic Center Conservancy, which exists to support Civic Center park, began strategizing.
The Conservancy teamed up with Bayaud Enterprises to hire unhoused residents to pick up trash and assist city workers with landscaping in a program called Civic Center Works, which launched in April 2022.
“The narrative around Civic Center in some way, shape or form was that the homeless were a drain on Civic Center and it was bringing it down. But we knew the unhoused community were some of the park’s biggest advocates. And we had seen from before (the pandemic) that the people finding community in our park, Civic Center park, were the ones who were walking around picking up trash and taking care of it,” said Eric Lazzari, the Conservancy’s executive director.
Last year, 24 people were hired to work six hours a day, three days a week for the season. Ten moved on to permanent jobs with the parks department or used the program as a steppingstone in their career path. This season, there’s about five people on the job daily with about a dozen in the program, he said.
“These are folks making the steps to transition out of homelessness and were looking for jobs,” Lazzari said. “What started out as a parks problem solved the parks problem but also impacted and changed the lives of others.”