When I first met Rodney two months ago, he had a lightly-used mountain bike and a full-time job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. He was staying in our shelter, saving up until he could afford a place all his own. Every day, he rode 16 miles round-trip, to and back from work.
As he signed in for the morning work shift, he gave me a brief update as he grabbed some latex gloves.
Unfortunately, he’d since lost that job and that bike.
My heart sank. Rodney was on the right track, and things seemed to be going well. I asked how the job search was going.
“I’ve applied at several places, but nobody will hire me without an ID.”
He explained that he misplaced his ID or someone stole it. He wasn’t sure. When you sleep in a homeless shelter with 210 people, stuff gets lost or disappears.
Either way, his ID was missing, and he was going through the numerous steps required to obtain a replacement. In the meantime, his job search was on hold.
“I’m thankful for this program. I have to work. I have to do something. I can’t just sit around all day. So, it’s nice to work around here a couple hours every day and feel useful.”
Rodney’s word choice was poignant as he explained how he felt about the new Work Engagement opportunities around our campus.
Just as soon as he finished his sentence, the crew supervisor, Kit, walked up and asked Rodney to start his shift by sweeping out one of the restrooms.
Like chocolate infused with chili powder, she’s sweet but with a bit of a kick.
Her directions to her four-person crew were maternal—intentional and gentle, yet you knew what would happen if you protested.
No one batted an eye, and everyone went straight to work.
Every day, our guests can work a couple two-hour shifts to keep our shelters, resource center, kitchen, and campus clean. There are two shifts available in the morning from six to eight and eight to ten.
Kit was one of the first to sign up when we introduced the work opportunities a month ago. Kit hasn’t missed many shifts, since.
She’s proud of her crew, quickly diverting any compliment you pay her to her team.
“It’s all my team. They’re the ones that make me look good. They do a fantastic job, they really do. I couldn’t ask for better people.”
Terra explained that she and her husband moved to Colorado Springs several years ago after he landed a contract with Fort Carson. She didn’t share how she ended up homeless. Her distressed expectation of the question told me not to ask, so I didn’t. But to go from having a government contract to being homeless is a big leap, and I could only assume a traumatic event filled the gap.
She willingly volunteered for the toughest job on the crew: cleaning toilets.
Cleaning toilets isn’t glamorous, and it’s even worse in a 250-bed men’s homeless shelter. But after she finished cleaning them, those bowls were immaculate.
She took pride in her work. She cleaned each toilet as if it was in her bathroom and her mother-in-law was spending the night. It had to be spotless and perfect.
“I appreciate the opportunity to work. It’s a great distraction to the monotony you can fall into when you’re…”
Terra paused, trying to think of a different way to define her situation. There was that word that everyone else uses, but Terra didn’t want it to apply to her.
She surrendered and finished her sentence, “Well, when you’re homeless. It helps to feel useful.”
There was that word, again.
Kit quickly whisked me away like a proud parent, introducing me to the rest of her crew.
Mark was busy replacing and sanitizing mop heads after they finished cleaning the shelter and bathroom floors. I also met Chelsea as she cleaned the sinks, counters, and mirrors.
“Chelsea does a good job. Sometimes guys don’t see what women do.”
Everyone took pride in their work. Kit and her crew left no grime standing, and everything was pristine.
I had a chance to chat with Kit as she replaced the toilet paper rolls in every stall. She multitasked, explaining the advantages of joining the work crews.
Guests earn a ticket each time they join a work crew and complete a two-hour shift. Each ticket rewards them with a hearty breakfast, lunch and the ability to skip the line at dinner.
We have four public dinner shifts each night because our small dining room only fits 60 people at a time. So, skipping the line is a big deal and a huge time-saver.
After they collect five tickets, they receive a personal locker, a personalized work badge, and access to our most highly sought-after household items like new socks, razors, and rosemary mint conditioner. When they collect twenty-five tickets, we schedule a job interview with a partner agency, and they’re promoted to crew supervisors.
Since we started, more than 57 guests have completed a work shift, and 17 have completed five or more.
“I started when I was fifteen, and I love waitressing and dealing with people. I miss it a lot. I worked pretty steadily since I was eight. And so, when you’re used to working all your life…well, thank God for this program because you really don’t know what to do with yourself, otherwise.
“With my knee injury, I could probably only do two or three days a week waitressing, while with here, I could do seven. I don’t do the cleaning on Saturdays, but I still go out and clean the garbage on the streets.
“For many of us, this is our home for now, and we want to keep it clean. That and it’s always good to be busy and feel useful, you know? It really is.”
As she rolled the cart of TP back to the closet, a small piece of paper fell onto the floor. The wheels stopped dead in their tracks as she walked over and picked the paper up.
“Little things like that make it look like we didn’t clean at all.”
While there, Kit pointed to one of the rooms.
“That’s my room,” she bubbled with enthusiasm.
When Kit’s shift is over, she pioneers new jobs around campus, like washing and folding laundry in our new resource center. She enjoys working.
Because she’s such a hard worker, we gave Kit a room all to herself in the women’s shelter. I congratulated her and told her she’d earned it. She shrugged off the compliment.
“No, it’s all my crew. They make me look good. They really do.”
When I re-positioned the compliment by adding that she’s been on almost every work crew since they’ve been available, she remained tenacious.
“I’m just doing my part. It’s the least I can do.”
And as she said this, I thought about that word she and everyone else kept using.
Was feeling useful the least she could do? Because the opposite of feeling useful is feeling useless.
And nobody should feel useless because we’re all created with a purpose, and God has a use for every one of our lives.
Work Engagement opportunities are helping restore value, dignity, and usefulness in the lives of neighbors struggling with homelessness. And because crew supervisors like Kit and their teams take so much pride in their work and continually do an excellent job, the Mission can maintain a clean and healthy campus without hiring janitorial and cleaning services.
When Rodney gets his new ID and starts looking for a job again, he’ll have some work history on his applications to fill the gap between his last job. He’ll also have professional references from staff and volunteers.
It’s a win-win for everyone.
Learn more about Springs Rescue Mission’s programs and how we help navigate people towards sobriety, employment, and housing. We also love giving tours of our campus, so schedule one today by calling us at (719) 632-1822.