'Work Today' pilot run to be pitched

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BRATTLEBORO — The Select Board will consider if the town should contribute $65,000 for a three-month pilot run of "Work Today," a jobs program billed as "just one piece of a possible solution to extreme poverty in our community."

"If we are to continue to stem the tide of suffering and isolation that we each see in front of us every day, we must work together as community members, agencies and government to create every possible opportunity for jobs, housing, inclusion, dignity and equity of opportunity," Youth Services said in a proposal to go before the board Tuesday.

The goal, according to the proposal, is to "develop a low-barrier employment opportunity for people in Brattleboro with significant barriers to employment" including lack of documentation to verify identification that's required for working other jobs, as well as substance abuse, chronic mental distress and homelessness.

Help during lunch — such as benefits counseling, searches for permanent employment and other services — would be offered but participation would not be mandatory. Workers would get $15 per hour for six-hour shifts.

The expectation is that there would be three days of work per week for 10 people. Employers would sign a memorandum of understanding with an organization run by Youth Services. The hope is to start up by late summer or fall, then possibly launch a "sustainable ongoing program" by winter.

Youth Services said the program's success depends on "easy enrollment." It should support "intermittent participant" similar to day labor programs but "must meet people's needs with dignity and be non-coercive," according to the proposal.

"Dignified working conditions include decent wages, safe and respectful supervision and ready access to support," Youth Services wrote. "Non-coercive programming is available when people are ready to access it, without loopholes, requirements for advancement or eligibility criteria."

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Youth Services said that after lots of research, it was clear other communities have not taken on a project of this size. That's why the pilot program is designed for a three-month period.

"We can then use these months of successful implementation to develop a successful proposal that will allow us to scale up and be sustainable," wrote Youth Services.

The program started taking shape about two years ago.

"Spurred by community concerns around panhandling but also in recognition of an unmet need, Groundworks Collaborative staff began meeting with community partners to explore the possibility of a low-barrier, easy access jobs program for Brattleboro," Youth Services wrote. "Groundworks developed a rough framework for the program but there were significant open questions about the specific approach to the program in terms of payroll and which community partners might participate. As the logistical and HR needs of this program became clear, Youth Services Workforce Development Department emerged as a likely lead."

On Jan. 31, Youth Service established a separate low-profit limited liability company called DemoGraphix for employment programs. With DemoGraphix, Youth Services said it has "developed the skills to stipend, hire and manage payroll for short-term employees" while balancing the work with social services counseling.

"For the last 50 years, Youth Services has served systems-involved youth and adults in our community through our housing restorative justice, clinical and case-management programs," the group said. "Groundworks will join us as a key partner, bringing their expertise, skills and frequent contact with the target population for this group."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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