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A guest, but also a volunteer on a mission to work his way out of homelessness

Rex finds hope (and hopefully a home) through SVdP’s new Workforce Development Program

Rex is a force. He zips around St. Vincent de Paul’s Sunnyslope Dining Room setting up meals and unloading delivery trucks during his volunteer shifts. At night, he retreats to a secluded place to sleep on the street. 

In a few months’ time, Rex hopes that will change. 

He’s one of a handful of SVdP guests experiencing homelessness who are part of our new Workforce Development Program. Sponsored by the Opus Foundation, the personalized program pairs individuals experiencing homelessness with trained SVdP staff to work one-on-one to overcome barriers that had previously prevented them from finding full-time employment.

Rex struggles with bipolar disorder and ADHD. As an adult, he turned to marijuana and other drugs until using got him fired from construction jobs. He then landed on the streets and doing a couple of stints in prison. When he got out in 2018, he had nowhere to go and became a regular guest of the dining room.

Staff there took an interest in his potential and recommended him for the new program.

"Rex has been a client at SVdP's Sunnyslope Dining Room 'forever,'" Jim Baker, the dining rooms manager, says. "Homeless off and on for 18+ years, the structure of this program got him so incentivized that he's doing phenomenal."

Rex simply needed the confidence and tools to get back in society.

As each case of homelessness is highly unique, so are the goals for individual participants. Rex’s plan includes earning his driver’s license, attending weekly therapy, staying clean, taking his medications, landing a driving job and maintaining a regular volunteer shift within the dining room. 

“Volunteering for me, it gives me some self-satisfaction. You know, it brings the morale out,” says Rex, who also acknowledges it gets him out of the elements. “I can do laundry. I can take a shower every day. I get clothing."

Rex knows the big payoff comes at the end when he finds stable employment and can afford his own housing. 

“Once I walk into that apartment and look around and say it’s mine, I’m sure it’s going to be gratifying,” he says. “It’s going to be a relief for me.”

“Once I walk into that apartment and look around and say it’s mine, I’m sure it’s going to be gratifying,” he says. “It’s going to be a relief for me.”

By November, Rex achieved nine months of sobriety — his longest stretch yet. He’s also attended every mental health appointment and is preparing for his driving test. 

“This time I’ve got my mindset in a different spot,” Rex says. “This program just got me to the level of thinking more clearly. I can think of things a little better now than I could before because my brain was a thousand horsepower a minute.” 

In a few months, case managers will check Rex’s status. Hopefully then, he’ll not only have his sobriety, but also his health, credentials, a job and soon, a home of his own.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2021 issue of Vincentian Connection.