Six months ago, Duncan Gaskins was homeless, living on the street by the Camden waterfront, desperate for a reason not to backslide to the time when he had found comfort in drugs and security in a gang.
Then, an outreach worker made him an offer: a day’s work, and $75 in his pocket.
Today, Gaskins, 54, has an apartment, a part-time job with Camden County, and a sense of possibility. “It’s no looking back,” he said recently. “I had lost all hope. Through this program, I have renewed hope. It’s still a struggle, but through this, it’s doable.”
That hope-renewing break came in the form of Work Now, a day-labor program the county launched a year and a half ago. Like at least a dozen others in cities around the country, it’s inspired by an initiative Albuquerque, N.M., created in 2015 to combat panhandling by challenging people holding “will work for food” signs to do just that — all while eliminating the barriers associated with more traditional workforce-development programs, like requirements to pass a drug test or present an ID.