Want a Job at This Java Shop? Only the Homeless Need Apply

Redtail Coffee in Fort Collins, Colo., is hiring down-and-out people other folks in the community are stereotyping.

(Photo: RedTail Coffee/Facebook)

Staff Writer Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at GOOD.

Landing a job takes plenty of work even when you have all your ducks in a row. But imagine filling out a job application and having nothing to put in the address field or getting dressed for interviews after a night sleeping on a bus bench.

That’s why Seth and Kelly Kelley, the owners of Redtail Coffee in Fort Collins, Colo., about an hour north of Boulder, are on a mission to provide employment opportunities specifically for individuals who will be living at a facility called Redtail Ponds. The housing project will open in the community next year and put a roof over the heads of local homeless and low-income residents.

But not everyone in the neighborhood has been thrilled with the arrival of the facility. The married duo opened the coffee shop in May after attending a contentious neighborhood meeting where plenty of fears and stereotypes about low-income and homeless people were shared.

They decided hiring homeless people could “break that barrier,” Seth Kelley told The Coloradoan.

“When people come through our shop and have a positive experience, we can challenge those stereotypes,” said Seth Kelley. “We also want to show that a for-profit can serve a social purpose.”

Along with hiring two experienced employees who could get the small java shop off the ground, the Kelleys, who had no previous coffeehouse experience, have also hired one homeless person. It’s a legitimate job too, not a training program. They’re paying above the state’s minimum wage of $8.

“People don’t know who’s behind the counter when they stop here,” Seth Kelley told the paper. “It could be any one of us in that low-income or homeless category. We want to make a positive experience for people.” He hopes to hire more individuals after the housing project opens next year.

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