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Seattle program connects homeless with jobs - in as little as two days

KOMO

SEATTLE -- Roland Tennin is used to making his home on the streets of Seattle. Now, he's part of a group that makes those streets better.

"Even though I'm homeless, doing what I'm doing now is better than standing there, asking, 'can you help me? Can you help me?' all day," said the 41-year old. "The chances of you getting enough money to feed yourself with that is very slim."

On Friday, Tennin was hard at work at 6th and Pine in downtown Seattle. Wearing an orange vest, he held a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other. He walked up and down the busy downtown corridor, sweeping up trash, collecting debris, looking for litter or human waste or drug paraphernalia.

"It's more than just a job to me. It's an important job," Tennin said. "I help keep an eye on the city. That's a good job. Help protect the city [and] everybody stay safe."

Although Tennin is homeless, he is working toward a steady job with the help of Jobs Connect, a new program through the Millionair Clubcharity.

"We're looking to get unsheltered adults into jobs for a day that may lead to jobs for a week that may lead to jobs full-time," said Cary Calkins, director of business development for the Millionair Club charity. "We're actually reaching out to people who are unsheltered. We do it with our arms wide open."

An outreach van picks Tennin up from wherever he slept the night before and delivers him and others to the organization's Belltown headquarters. There, Tennin can have breakfast, take a shower, and store his belongings -- before a full day as a "street maintenance ambassador" downtown.

"For me, it's a passion. I want to help people. I want to get them off the streets. I want to help them better themselves," said Lynda Kellems, outreach coordinator for the non-profit. "They may be at the lowest point in their lives and I may be the only person they talk to all day. I'm just going to say hello."

Kellems drives the group's brand-new passenger van, but spends several hours of her day walking the street and speaking to the city's homeless. She introduces herself, gives them a smile, and -- if it seems right -- will tell them about the new program.

"I just ask them, 'hey, how are you doing? How are things going? Hows your life?'" she added. "If it is services I can't provide, I want to find the services that can be provided."

Jobs Connect just launched, providing seven people with jobs on the downtown "Clean Team." The program is a partnership between the Millioniar Club and the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID), the Downtown Seattle Association, and the United Way of King County.

Already, Kellems is talking expansion -- to new jobs, new employers, and more outreach.

"We don't classify people as 'housed' people, yet we classify people who don't have houses or a place to stay as homeless people. When you do that, you classify their living situation before you classify their humanity," said Calkins. "I'd like see this expand from Pioneer Square to Belltown, with multiple businesses, with multiple people. Doing the good work in the city that I grew up in, in the city that I love."

"If you put your heart into anything you do, you'll learn to love it," added Tennin. "It's more than just a job to me."

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