On Wednesday mornings, a mobile laundry truck parks at a meter on West 14th Avenue at the Denver Public Library’s downtown branch. By 8:55 a.m., staff from Bayaud Enterprises has weighed individual bags of laundry for a line of homeless people, each of whom can do 10 pounds of laundry for free with the truck.
Bayaud Enterprises, a job training and placement program that works to help people overcome barriers to employment such as disabilities and homelessness, launched the laundry truck last April.
Demand for the service has been so great — about 5,000 pounds of clothes are cleaned a month — the company recently added a second truck. The company makes stops at the downtown library, as well as Colfax Avenue, and in the Cheesman Park, Five Points, Baker, Lincoln Park and River North neighborhoods.
The Denver Public Library’s downtown branch is the busiest, said Craig Salas, who was formerly homeless and was hired by Bayaud to work the laundry trucks.
For Anthony Murchison, one of the first people to start using the service, having access to a free laundry program means he has clean clothes for potential jobs or interviews.
“When you don’t have a few bucks in your pocket, this helps,” he said.
The program’s goal is to do just that — save money for the homeless population, said Scott Kerr, director of Bayaud’s employment and opportunity center. Some of the homeless have told him they buy new clothes from thrift stores instead of doing laundry or spend money at local laundromats.
Kerr said he’s hoping people can instead spend the money on necessities like food.
An unmet need
Besides the laundry trucks, Bayaud, located at 333 W. Bayaud Ave. in the Baker neighborhood, operates several other programs that help homeless people get jobs.
A document shredding business employs homeless individuals to give them job experience, while also providing a revenue stream for Bayaud.
When one of the shredding trucks was coming offline, the company asked the homeless community if there was a need that could be filled.
“The deepest unmet need was laundry,” he said.
Each truck holds seven washers, seven dryers and storage tanks for water from the laundry cycles that is later disposed of at Bayaud. At each stop, the trucks connect to a local water source. The homeless hand their laundry to Bayaud staff, which then attaches a sticky note with the person’s name, clothing weight and a number that matches the one on the laundry bag. That way people know which one to pick up later in the day.
In addition to providing laundry services, Kerr said the program helps build a relationship with people in the hopes of getting them into job training at Bayaud.
“We really wanted the truck to be by and for people who are emerging from poverty,” he said.
Salas said he first went to Bayaud when he was homeless. He moved to Denver from Oklahoma four years ago, and at one point was living in Bayaud’s parking lot. The company, he said, is unlike any other aid organization he’s seen.
The job training portion is meant to help people that may not have had work for a while, Salas said.
“You’re allowed to make mistakes,” he said. “You get people where (they) need to be.”
Creating jobs for all skills
Last year was a busy one for Bayaud.
In addition to launching the laundry truck, it started the official Denver Day Works program after a successful test pilot. The pilot program, which started in November 2016, helped 110 people find permanent work, according to a news release from the city of Denver.
Denver Day Works partnered with several employers throughout the city such as the Denver Zoo, city departments, Goodwill, King Soopers and more.
Since the end of the pilot, Denver Day Works has expanded to include jobs along the Colfax Business Improvement District. In August, Kerr said it also expanded to the River North upcoming pop-up Boxyard Park, located at Blake Street and Broadway. The park will host community events and will have a rotation of food trucks.
“We can find and create jobs for folks all along the skills spectrum,” Kerr said.
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