Transitioning out of homelessness: The Community Table Kitchen

“It’s a golden opportunity to move forward and be a productive citizen.”

Homelessness does not happen in a vacuum. It’s often related to mental health issues, substance abuse problems, but it’s almost always related to poverty, and addressing that is key to getting people off the streets.

The Bridge House is a Boulder non-profit that provides a range of services to help homeless adults get back on their feet. One of their programs, the Ready to Work Program is designed to get homeless adults back in employment, to get them out of poverty and off the streets.  Isabel McDevitt, Executive Director of the Bridge House says 84% of the homeless people that they serve are unemployed and helping them get jobs is crucial to getting them off the streets.

“We started Ready to Work with a really simple premise, to create jobs as a solution for folks who are ready to get back to work and who need employment to get out of homelessness.”

McDevitt says that the ready to work program is a 3 legged stool…providing employment, providing housing for up to a year and then support services. “The goal is for them to then graduate into main stream jobs and main stream housing and leave homelessness behind.”

One of their Ready to Work Programs is a land landscape crew that works with the city of Boulder.  Two years ago they started the Community Table Kitchen. McDevitt says the Community Table Kitchen has 3 purposes “first and foremost to produce meals that we serve to the homeless and working poor here in Boulder…with our Ready to Work Program we’re also able to employ homeless folks who are transitioning out of homelessness in the food service to prepare those meals and thirdly with the Community Table Kitchen we’re able to generate revenue to support our work to create employment and help homeless folks with a variety of different challenges.”

Earlier this year the Community Table Kitchen partnered with Naropa University and now operates the catering services at the cafeterias at all 3 of their Boulder campuses. Chuck Lief is the President of Naropa University, he’s also on the board of the Bridge House and he has a long background working with homeless issues in different parts of the country. He says the mission of the Community Table Kitchen works well with Naropa.

“Naropa is in the business of training students who will leave Naropa and we believe and have proven will change the world in many ways and one of those ways is through social innovation, social enterprise, community justice and those areas.  So for us an opportunity not just to do that work in the classroom but to be able to partner with a social enterprise like Community Kitchen, was an opportunity for our students and staff and faculty to see this model at work and actually engage in it in a really direct way.”

Danny Viella has recently started working in the Community Table Kitchen at Naropa.  He credits the program with helping him turn his life around. “With my recovery and my sobriety it’s helped a lot. It’s given me something other than my drug of choice, alcohol, to think about.  It’s bringing new perspective on my family and my kids. It’s a golden opportunity to move forward and be a productive citizen.”

Sean Hammond, a supervisor at the Naropa Café was formerly homeless and found employment through the Bridge House. He says there are many misconceptions about homelessness and he thinks the Ready to Work program and particularly the Community Table Kitchen can help dispel those misconceptions.

“You never know where somebody is coming from and I think we make assumptions too often…maybe somebody is picking up a cigarette butt or they’re standing with their back pack flying a sign and we never really know what these people are doing these things for and it’s too easy for us to judge it because it’s something we might not do ourselves and I think it’s important to remember that hey, what if that did happen to you, how would you behave in those circumstances.”

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