Lori went three years without a job. In that time, she has lived in the women’s shelter at Springs Rescue Mission and struggled with her sense of self worth. She always worked hard to provide for her family — unemployment and homelessness were never part of the plan.
But through the City of Colorado Springs‘ new WorkCOS program, she’s now working, smiling and dreaming big.
“I want to prove myself,” she said. “I like having a job again and having a paycheck again! Hopefully this will lead to something more full-time, and then maybe I can get into housing soon.”
WorkCOS is a partnership between the City of Colorado Springs and local homeless services nonprofits, including Springs Rescue Mission. In fact, the first three employees hired through WorkCOS have been guests of the Mission. Lori was one of them and says she’s “thankful for the chance to work again” — that it’s working wonders for her confidence.
“It does make me feel better about things — it gives me some hope that things will get better,” she said. “It’s something to push me and to make me work a little harder. … And it’s good to stay busy. Otherwise, you get stuck in a rut.”
When fully scaled, the program is expected to employ up to eight people to work on median maintenance projects funded by the Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority. The employees work directly with the city’s Public Works Operations and Maintenance Division.
WorkCOS is part of the larger Colorado Springs Homelessness Initiative, which the city launched last year to address the health and safety of homeless individuals in Colorado Springs through various programs and awareness campaigns. WorkCOS finally began to take shape after the Initiative rollout, and a large part of it specifically recognizes employment as an “important key to leaving life on the streets.”
“Homelessness is a very complicated issue,” said Andrew Phelps, who oversees the program as the city’s Homelessness Prevention and Response Coordinator. “Shelter and housing are important, but employment is also a huge factor in recovery from homelessness. Work can make someone self-sufficient — but more than that, it can bring meaning to their life.”
To participate in the program, individuals must be referred through a jobs program such as Work Engagement at Springs Rescue Mission. Once the applicants undergo a background check and interview process, they are hired through a temp agency. The positions are part-time and temporary (lasting an estimated 6-12 months), but Phelps said there is potential for the experience to transition into permanent job placement with the City.
“It’s really a foot in the door to gaining full-time employment with the city,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about the WorkCOS employees we have from Springs Rescue Mission. I really hope they can gain full-time employment and become self-sufficient again — and I hope it will also bring them some meaning.”
Because participants are referred to WorkCOS through work programs at the Mission, the city requires them to remain sheltered and actively engaged in Work Engagement and Case Management. On the job, people like Lori also gain valuable skills and work experience that might benefit them down the road.
Tyler Peoples, director of the Mission’s work programs, says he sees WorkCOS as a positive step in creating new and creative pathways out of homelessness, and that partnering with the City of Colorado Springs is part of the Mission’s larger goal of engaging and helping the community.
“I think WorkCOS is really important for our guests to feel like they can contribute,” he said. “This way, they can get well-paying jobs helping keep our city looking good. A lot of the people here at the Mission have a sense of worthlessness — they’ve given up and feel like they have nothing to contribute. But through this program, they have the opportunity to show others, and themselves, that they matter and that they can contribute. … The confidence that comes from that is a big deal. Some of these folks have gone years without that, and having a job really makes all the difference.”
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