Having worked his way out of homelessness once before, 41-year-old Roland knows the course for getting his life back on track.
“If I’m working, I’m happy,” said Roland, who has obtained temporary work through Jobs Connect, a new program of United Way of King County that reaches out to unsheltered homeless people and puts them on a path toward a steady job and stable housing. “When solutions to your problems are made available to you, you’ve got to accept them and run with them.”
Roland has been down this road before. Back in 2002, he was staying at a downtown shelter for homeless men until he found a way out through a job, gaining employment as a street cleaner. That job led to another, and then another. Eventually, Roland built a nice career for himself as an auto detailer. Living comfortably in an apartment, he figured his days as a homeless person were distant memories.
But then he took a risk. Hoping to advance himself financially, he quit his job for the promise of a better one that never came to pass. His situation quickly spiraled, losing his income and later his apartment. He could hardly believe he was homeless again. He knew that a job – any job – could provide the boost to lift him out of homelessness, as it had before. But how could he get one?
“I’m living downtown out of a bag,” Roland said. “It’s hard enough just to make sure you have some toothpaste or a bar of soap, let alone have a place to take a shower. How am I supposed to interview for a job if I’m all smelly, dingy and dirty? No one wants to hire someone like that.”
Jobs Connect aims to knock down the multitude of barriers that homeless individuals face when searching for – or trying to retain – a job. Free of judgment and red tape, Jobs Connect doesn’t dwell on an individual’s past, focusing instead on finding a way forward. For Roland, that meant accepting an offer of help from a United Way partner, Millionair Club Charity, which linked him to a Jobs Connect employer, the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID).
Four mornings a week, Roland boards a Jobs Connect van that transports him from wherever he slept that night to the Millionair Club in Belltown. He grabs a good breakfast there before checking in at the MID to work an eight-hour day as a street maintenance ambassador. After work, he returns to the Millionair Club to take a hot shower and do his laundry.
He is back on the path, once again cleaning the streets of Seattle in hopes of no longer having to live on them.
“I’m exactly where I need to be to walk through all the doors that have started to open for me,” he said. “All they had to do was get me through that door, and it was all over.”