Joslin Roderick launched the Solutions Public Benefit Corp. in Durango, in part, to employ people experiencing homelessness. Five months later, the coronavirus shut down businesses across Colorado – and most of her operations.
Solutions served as a doorway into employment for those experiencing homelessness, helping people gain both income and job skills. Restaurants and construction jobs also provided entry-level jobs. Now those jobs have temporarily dried up. While Solutions adapts to a turbulent economy, Roderick is finding other ways to support the homeless community, like providing hand sanitizer, and brainstorming new employment opportunities.
The public benefit corporation runs a low-barrier day labor work program, called A Day’s Work, which pays people in need of an hourly wage in return for help making candles. Workers help with shipping, labeling or even business strategy, receiving job recommendations and learning work skills.
“The business model of Solutions is to employ people (in critical need) and work together to make products,” said Roderick, owner of the business. “We’re taking this opportunity to regroup and figure out what that looks like going forward.”
Since it started in October, Roderick was able to employ six people, at $12 to $14 an hour for several hours each week, through a successful holiday season.
“When you make an income, you start to have choices about how you want to live your life,” Roderick said.
The business model revolves around working together in the same space, which is not possible with social-distancing requirements. Roderick halted the work program to adapt for 12 to 18 months of coronavirus-related restrictions.
To continue supporting the homeless community, Roderick distributed 250 hand-sanitizer bottles to the Purple Cliffs community south of downtown Durango, Community Compassion Outreach and the Navajo Nation in Shiprock.
She is working with local and national organizations to support employees learning new job skills. She is also searching for ways to create more jobs for people in Durango who are in critical need. For example, she might work with local organizations to create a network of job opportunities or to work in landscaping.
“Homeless people are very skilled, and very excited to work,” she said. “We’ve had great experiences with a wide variety of people feeling uplifted, having money in their pockets and feeling like they have choices going forward.”
The program’s closure came at a time when many in the homeless community are not looking for jobs – they are sheltering in place. For example, the residents at Purple Cliffs agreed not to leave the campsite to prevent an outbreak, said Donna Mae Baukat, executive director of Community Compassion Outreach.
Still others are searching. They need to pay for medications, medical bills, food and personal items. One couple is looking for work to prepare for twins coming in August. They are staying in a motel, funded by community donations, because the mother cannot walk up the hill to Purple Cliffs, Baukat said.
“Whether they’re in the restaurant industry, or whatever work they’re seeking, it’s frustrating because things are shut down,” Roderick said.