It’s early morning and Justin Butler bends down to speak softly to a woman who’s doubled over on a downtown park bench. He checks to see if she needs food, water or medical attention. While welfare visits on people experiencing homelessness are part of Justin’s job as safety ambassador, he embraces engaging with those living on Seattle streets.
“Everybody’s story is different,” says Justin. “They become homeless for different reasons. Maybe something happened financially. They could be going through depression or have social disorders. Be compassionate about it. You never know why they’re in that predicament.”
We first introduced you to Justin, a then-recent Jobs Connect client, last year. He moved to Seattle from Phoenix to escape the 110-degree heat. He wants to become a nurse. And he’s a big Seahawks fan. We met up with Justin recently and are excited to share more on how he’s doing.
“I came out here and I had a little money saved up, but the rent was too high for me. So I slept at Union Gospel Mission.”
Finding a job was the hard part. It’s hard enough without being homeless too. In addition to no permanent address to write on a job application, Justin says there are numerous obstacles when you’re homeless and looking for work.
“You’ve got to figure out how to maneuver about the city because you still have to wash your clothes and things like that,” Justin said. “I would get up about 6 or 7 in the morning and immediately wash my clothes, take a shower and wait for the library to open so I could get online and job hunt. I didn’t care what the job was. I just wanted to work and learn the city.”
A Union Gospel Mission staff member told Justin about MID, or the Downtown Seattle Association’s Metropolitan Improvement District. MID is one of the employers United Way works with through Millionair Club Charity via our Jobs Connect program. Jobs Connect links employers, nonprofit agencies and people experiencing homelessness. It helps them build one of the pillars they need to move out of homelessness: income.
At work with Jobs Connect
Soon, Justin started on a MID cleaning team, quickly winning employee of the month and other accolades for his hard work. Much of his work was graffiti removal around the city: Belltown, Pioneer Square, other retail areas. He noticed the little things: stickers, the messages behind the graffiti, ultra-visible words but a hidden culture of Seattle that people often think one thing about: trouble.
“If I were going to a job interview at a big company, they might have seen me walking in off the street and they would have thought differently about me. Through the Jobs Connect program, my employers saw me. They saw my work ethic. I could put that on display instead of homelessness.” Instead of all the other stereotypes applied to people experiencing homelessness or hard times.
Justin is one of more than 150 people who now have permanent work since United Way launched Jobs Connect in 2016. We’re thinking big for 2017, scaling the successful program to 10 providers so we can employ 1,000 people, including young people and families, over the next 12 months. And after Justin had worked with MID for about a month, and since he was part of Jobs Connect, he was able to get housing at United Way partner Millionair Club’s Kasota apartments, where he still lives now.
“Working gives you confidence—you have something to do when you wake up. You’re not endlessly walking around. I believe idle time leads to other things to your life. I wanted to avoid that..my mindset was just focused on getting a job and trying to achieve something out here.”
Justin also shared that having worked since he was 16, he wants to earn everything he has.
One recent thing he’s earned is a new role with MID doing more outreach with the safety team.
“The first part of the day, we enforce the city ordinances,” Justin explained. “We wake people who are homeless and see if they need water or food, check if they’re OK or if they need a medic of anything. This is more of a compassion type of job, and I enjoy that.”
He also enjoys that he gets to not only be social and share information with inquiring tourists, but also to give back to others in the situation he was so close to himself—sleeping on the streets.
On how we should view homelessness
“Approach everybody like you would want to be approached if the roles were reversed,” Justin said. A mantra we should all take to heart in life and especially in the homelessness crisis.
As Justin finishes his workday, he reflects on his life: homeless two years ago and today, finding his footing in the city he loves. He’s hoping to become a nurse one day, but for now, he says he’s got the perfect job.
“It’s the freedom and getting to meet people in this job. I love it.”