PUFF wanted to show the Denver Welfare Reform Board. But since that board had never met--in fact, several seats had yet to be filled by the mayor, including those reserved for the Denver Department of Social Services and Colorado Works--PUFF instead delivered its report to Webb's office and asked for a meeting.
After that request met with three weeks of silence, PUFF paid a call on the mayor during his June 2 open house. Webb promised to formalize the city's welfare-reform board the next day, and also to look into the vacancies (by now, Laughlin's departure had created another). Then another silent month passed.
And so Wednesday, a full year after federal welfare reform handed off responsibility for these women to the City and County of Denver, PUFF's members gathered in the park where Webb would deliver his address a few minutes later. Here's their message: They wish people in this city would get their heads out of the clouds long enough to look down and recognize the people who have yet to receive any benefit of trickle-down economics. To see the people who are barely making it. To see the people for whom a one-month bus pass is a ticket to self-sufficiency.
To see people like Patti Powers, a single mother of four who's been off welfare for over a year, works for the Denver Public Schools and relies on the bus. "We have to get up really early to get things done," she says. "My brother watches my kids because I can't afford regular child care. He lives on Colfax, past Simms. We have to get up in the dark to take the kids out there." DPS has no deal with RTD, no program to help employees find transportation. "That's something I really wish would happen," says Powers, who took the bus (including transfers) to Cook Park. "Denver's been pushing a lot for people to be working, but I haven't seen a lot that they're doing."
To see people like Margaret Zertuche, a single mother of two who has been working as a receptionist at a downtown accounting firm since March but still can't come up with $35 for a bus pass. "They don't have a program to help," she says. "There are so many of us on the streets, hoofing it, most likely. It's hard enough to get groceries, let alone a bus pass. When you're getting off welfare and you're doing better, they should do anything they can to make you stay off."
Zertuche couldn't get off work to make the protest. But her voice and all the others finally have been heard. On Tuesday, as word of the protest leaked out, Webb appointed Zertuche to the welfare-reform board. She'll be at that first meeting...even if she has to take the bus.