Published by the Denver Voice, a newspaper for the homeless in Denver, Colorado, in August 2012
On weekdays, Nancy Laney is an English Major at University of Colorado, Denver, but for many nights for over a year, she was one of the many homeless youth wondering where to find a place to stay for a good night sleep.
“When I got evicted in 2010 from my townhouse I didn’t have a choice on where to live and as the months went by as being homeless,” said Laney. “Hope and opportunity dwindled out of my life.”
She was living with her boyfriend in 2010 in a townhome when he was incarcerated. Laney found it difficult to keep up with the rent and finance her education. She had been living on the street for nearly two years when she met Lynda Drake and Kim Wilson at Bayaud Enterprise.
“When I met Lynda Drake and Kim Wilson in March …, I told them one of my biggest struggles was that I was worried about where I was going to sleep that night. I kept crashing at my friends’ houses, but I couldn’t keep going to their house,” said Laney.
Drake and Wilson both knew just what to do because, working for Bayaud Enterprises, Laney’s situation was familiar territory.
Bayaud Enterprises began as an employment center in 1969 to cater those with disabilities. At the time, the center only had the capacity to serve of 30 people, and each of the individuals had at least five years hospitalization due to mental health illness diagnosed by the state mental health facility. Today, Bayaud Enterprises expanded its service to help homeless and in-need individuals and families, though the focus on mentally ill remains — 80 percent of their clients, have a current diagnosis of mental health disability.
“The goal was to maintain these individuals in the community, using work to keep themselves out of the hospital,” said Dave Henninger, executive director of Bayaud Enterprises, who started as an industrial therapist in 1969.
Out of the 30 people who started as clients with Bayaud in 1969, 28 of them found work, and as the next 30 people came in, Bayaud was able to continue this record through contracts with corporations who are willing to offer employment for Bayaud clients. Today, more than 7,000 people have been helped in Bayaud’s 43-year history.
“The message is clear, employment matters. When you go to a party, people want to know what you do. The country identifies who you are by what you do,” said Henninger.
With high motivation, Henninger continued to serve the homeless since Bayaud first began as the employment expert. He then restructured the organization, and now Bayaud Enterprise approach fresh clients coming into the organization through their Resource Navigators and Employment Navigators. Bayaud Resource Navigators are in touch with social services, housing facilities or shelters, transportation resources and employment agencies. In the case of Laney, the resource navigators were the source of light for what seemed like a narrow and dark tunnel she had to crawl under.
“These awesome women knew of a 90-day shelter where I could finally have the stability and rest I desperately needed,” said Laney. “They also helped me in obtaining a bus pass.” Laney was not in a temporary housing facility, however she was still seeking proper employment for permanent housing to call a home.
After each client was able to find shelter, the Employment Navigators helps with the employment process through building resumes or by encouraging the client to learn computer skills, while finding to matching appropriate jobs to the qualifications for each client.
Along with the navigators, Bayaud referred clients to mental health facilities and provides mental health resources through an on-site counselor for individuals who are unable to find local therapists or who are un-qualified for local mental health resources.
What Bayaud Enterprise aims for was permanent housing and employment for its clients, and three months ago, the organization was able to secure an exclusive contract with Del Norte Housing Development to further their noble goal. Del Norte will remodel single apartment units to serve as permanent housing for Bayaud Enterprises’ clientele while they are looking for full time employment.
“This provides housing and work together, and individuals will be selected by lottery at Bayaud,” said Henninger.
Bayaud Enterprises also sponsored AmeriCorps Financial Empowerment Services (AFES), a national AmeriCorps program that served eight cities across the nation. The Denver team encourages economic empowerment by assisting individuals and families to move towards financial self-sufficiency through free tax prep assistance, financial education and disability benefit support. (Full disclosure: The Denver AFES team has partnered with the Denver VOICE, providing their vendors with monthly financial education classes and well as tax prep assistance, held at the Champa Street office in Denver.)
Clients of Bayaud could also be employed through its paper shredding program that began nine years ago with the Wyoming and Colorado Internal Revenue Service. What began with just one customer, the IRS, Bayaud is now the go to organization trusted by 2,700 companies in the Wyoming and Colorado areas to shred confidential documents.
Laney was only one of the many voices who testified to Bayaud’s expertise to care for the homeless, because for over four decades, Bayaud Enterprises has provided opportunity for the homeless to help with a new hope and a new life.
“There is a need for people to be given the second chance to work, even if they are given a bad start,” said Henninger.
When she first became homeless, Laney felt shame was attached to her position, and her housing status limited her environment in and around school.
“It was embarrassing being homeless. I didn’t want to talk to my classmates. I don’t want them to know I was homeless. I didn’t want my teachers to know either,” said Laney. “It was hard to know where to live when you don’t have a place to work, and how can you find a job if you don’t know what to put for your address on the application?”
Since her youth, Laney has been out of touch from her immediate family, whom she ran away from at the age of 15. Despite a recurring health condition, an anxiety disorder, and homelessness, she still managed to take her courses at UC Denver. Not only was Bayaud Enterprises a second chance one-stop-shop for those who call Denver home, but this organization was the peace of mind for a formerly homeless student who dreams to one day find solid employment in the field of literature and journalism.