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Local groups Purple Door Coffee and Earthlinks put Denver's homeless to work

Homeless workers learn skills and earn cash
Posted: 3:00 PM, Aug 19, 2016
Updated: 2016-08-20 02:24:32Z

DENVER - While the coffee beans are being ground, David Jepson carefully opens the box of pastries and sets it out on display near the register. They move fast during the course of the morning, as regulars paying for their cup of joe can’t seem to resist the aroma of the baked treats.

Jepson works at Purple Door Coffee shop in Denver. He was also once homeless, but he said working at Purple Door has turned his life around.

According to the 2016 Point-In-Time report for Metro-Denver, more than three-quarters of homeless people surveyed received income in the past month. The majority of working homeless families who reported their income made an average of $940 a month — about half of what’s considered a living wage.

Purple Door is an espresso shop that employs homeless teens and young adults. Mark Smesrud runs the program and says the coffee shop has helped several people, including Jepson.

Jepson says circumstances during his teen years, including his mother’s early-onset Alzheimers diagnosis, led to him living on the street.

“Pretty much my entire high school career, my mom was going downhill,” he said. “But once mom died, I couldn’t hold it. I couldn’t hold my apartment. I couldn’t hold anything. I made the decision to really get away, and I just ended up homeless as a result.”

With the help of Purple Door, Jepson was able to find stability in his life. He is now renting an apartment with his girlfriend.

Other Denver-area programs offer to help the homeless move from the streets to residences they can call their own. Earthlinks , a Denver garden center, employs people who have experienced or are presently experiencing homelessness.

Like Purple Door, the garden center provides homeless individuals the opportunity to learn skills that they can then carry on to their next job.

Once a week, Daisy Nolan finds respite in Earthlinks' urban oasis.

“When I’m homeless or in an abusive relationship, falsely charged, whatever it is I’m going through, I can look forward to coming to work,” Nolan said.

Kathleen Cronan is the the executive director of Earthlinks.

“Our program workers are also social workers, so they are able to work with our participants in a very holistic way,” Cronan said.

For Nolan, that means getting help with her post-traumatic stress disorder.

“So I’m not good for long hours on a job,” Nolan said. “This is a home environment, so it doesn’t bother me at all,” Nolan said.

Earthlink says it has a 70 percent success rate of participants who obtain and remain in some form of housing.

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