The Give Us Dirty Work project is offering homeless residents hope through employment.
“They are human beings, they need to be part of our society. ... This is why we are trying so hard to offer hope,” project founder Donna Mae Baukat said.
Baukat formalized Community Compassion Outreach, a program of Durango Christian Church, in May to serve the needs of the homeless through a store of critical supplies and other services. The group is interested in working with other churches to manage a permanent homeless camp, although no formal agreement or plan to run a camp has been reached.
In the last few weeks, the outreach program launched Give Us Dirty Work and started connecting people with work.
The program is in its infancy, and thus far, Baukat, with help from the Business Improvement District’s homeless outreach coordinator, has identified 30 interested workers and a handful of interested employers, including restaurants and the Powerhouse Science Center.
Employers agree to pay a worker directly for a certain number of hours, and the Give Us Dirty Work program ensures that someone arrives to work and provides supervision.
For example, the Powerhouse Science Center agreed to employ someone for 10 weeks for a few hours a week to clean and paint and do other tasks, said Anja Davis, director of community engagement and education for the nonprofit.
“We just thought it would be a great way to give back,” she said.
Powerhouse staff members expect to evaluate their commitment after three weeks, she said.
Baukat has worked with several interested homeless residents to get identification because that can be a barrier to employment.
The idea for the outreach program was sparked after Baukat learned from the pastor of Durango Christian Church that several homeless men died over the winter because of exposure.
Volunteers from the church have supplied clothing and served at Manna. But Baukat wants to do much more, and she is recruiting more employers and volunteers.
“I know there are going to be people who can rally around me and carry on,” she said.
While nothing has been finalized around managing permanent housing, Baukat does see need for a camp that would provide bathrooms and showers and help people transition out of homelessness in six months to a year.
Her group is willing to survey homeless residents about their interest in a camp, she said.
The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office has allowed people to camp north of the Tech Center because the area does not have enough shelter space to accommodate the homeless population. If the county arrests people for sleeping in public places, it could be a violation of their constitutional rights.
The county has supplied dumpsters and portable toilets, but there is no running water and camping is dispersed.
There have also been two stabbing incidents in about two weeks at the camp.
Permanent camps can help homeless people establish a sense of community and networks of support that they need, said Donald Burnes, founder of the Burnes Center on Poverty and Homelessness at the University of Denver. But camps need to be self-governed and have basic infrastructure ,such as toilets and trash disposal, to function well.
“People who are living in the tent cities don’t want the place to look like a Third World country. If they don’t have any alternatives, it will,” he said.
The homeless population nationally has remained unchanged for the last 35 to 40 years, and there are an estimated 100,000 people in Colorado without homes of their own, he said.
While many people believe people become homeless because of personal faults, it’s a systemic problem that comes from social and economic inequality, he said.
“The minimum wage in the U.S. is such that it doesn’t provide adequate income for people to afford housing,” Burnes said.
While the national population of homeless people has been unchanged for decades, there is a growing sensitivity to the issue, he said.
“I wish more of the sensitivity was sympathetic. I don’t think that’s the case,” he said.
People interested in working with Community Compassion Outreach on the Give Us Dirty Work program or other initiatives can contact Baukat at 236-2313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been updated to clarify the population estimate for homeless people in the state.