Boise & Garden City

At Interfaith Sanctuary’s request, Boise takes on more homeless parks workers

Parks crew of homeless workers proves ‘people who want to work will work,’ says Boise

Interfaith Sanctuary and Boise Parks and Recreation say their program for putting homeless people to work is the first of its kind in the nation.
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Interfaith Sanctuary and Boise Parks and Recreation say their program for putting homeless people to work is the first of its kind in the nation.

A week ago, Jodi Peterson asked Boise Parks and Recreation director Doug Holloway if he could help a few people find jobs.

Within an hour, she said, Holloway called her back to tell her he’d hire three of the people she was asking for.

Peterson, co-director of Boise homeless shelter Interfaith Sanctuary, said she contacted Holloway in response to comments she’d heard a couple days earlier from fathers who stay at Sanctuary with their children.

“All the dads were like, ‘We want to go back to work, and we can’t,’” Peterson said.

Some of these men had applied for jobs but hadn’t landed any yet, possibly because of less-than-pristine backgrounds, Peterson said. So Peterson called Holloway, who has experience hiring homeless people with checkered applications.

Parks and Recreation launched a program this spring to hire homeless people who were staying at Sanctuary. In doing so, the department relaxed its normal hiring standards, which often disqualify job applicants with criminal records.

Instead of discarding applications from these candidates, Parks and Recreation dug deeper to discover the circumstances of various offenses they’d committed. If enough time had passed or there were extenuating circumstances, and if the candidates were addressing personal issues related to their offenses, Parks and Recreation was more willing to give them a chance.

It worked. The Sanctuary workers have, for the most part, received rave reviews from their supervisors. Holloway likes having another pool of workers to handle the variety of jobs that need to get done in Boise parks.

A total of nine Sanctuary workers are on two Parks and Recreation crews. Thanks to a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, these crews will work through the winter clearing snow from Downtown sidewalks and crosswalks, picking up trash, maintaining golf courses or handling tasks as Idaho Ice World.

Peterson said Interfaith has 18 names on a waiting list for parks jobs. The shelter prioritized fathers who are staying at Sanctuary with their children, she said.

Holloway said he’ll put the three additional Sanctuary workers on the same two crews. Their paychecks will come out of the department’s budget for seasonal employees. The Albertson Foundation has pledged money to cover the payroll of 14 more homeless workers starting in the spring.

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