‘Positivity Brings You Into the Light’: Former shelter guest embraces role as staff member
IPH Safe Haven employee uses his own experience facing homelessness to
IPH Safe Haven employee Jeffrey - known as 'Jazz' - standing in front of the doors that first welcomed him when he was experiencing homelessness. Jazz now welcomes others to Safe Haven as an IPH staff member.
Jeffrey begins the day with a smile on his face. The sky is pitch black and the air is bitingly cold, but he knows the importance of greeting guests at his workplace – IPH’s Code Blue emergency shelter Safe Haven – with positivity. He knows what compassion and respect can do for someone experiencing homelessness.
He knows because it wasn’t long ago that he woke up in the same place.
“I tell them good morning, I tell them to have a good day,” said Jeffrey, who goes by Jazz. “When I go in there, I smile at them. They know I’m on their side. I’m going to give them some real positive stuff.”
It’s been 10 years since Jazz first walked into the building that is now his place of employment. But back then, his circumstances were significantly different. After eight years of living on the streets, he came to a realization that he now knows was a long time coming.
“I was homeless. I was sleeping in the park and abandoned buildings. I was hanging with the wrong people, doing things I wasn’t supposed to be doing. I was killing myself,” said Jazz, who lived on the streets for eight years. “I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere. And then someone told me about this place. I came here the next day and I’ve been here since.”
He recalls feeling immediately welcomed by the staff at Safe Haven, who invited him in “with open arms” and gave him the resources he needed to begin rebuilding his life.
“I had an alcohol problem and a drug problem, but they welcomed me in. And that felt good. I wanted to start crying. I couldn’t sleep out there in the snow. I couldn’t sleep in the streets anymore,” said Jazz.
Safe Haven became the closest thing Jazz had to home for four months. Each night, he returned to the shelter for not only a warm meal and a comfortable bed, but for the support he received from IPH’s staff.
He vividly remembers conversations with staff members Shahmeeka and Miss Tina, whose support and guidance gave him the strength he needed to move forward. He finally felt like someone was in his corner.
“They told me I’d be alright and to take it one day at a time. To breathe – to inhale and exhale. They told me to be patient. So I did that,” he said.
The staff also did one other very important thing: they reconnected him with a concept he learned long ago but had lost along the way - respect.
“You get respect and you give respect back. I learned that from my mom. But I lost it,” said Jazz. “Interfaith treated me with respect and I treated them with respect. Respect is something you earn. It has to go back and forth. It’s a cycle.”
They also taught him self-respect, which he says was critical in continuing that forward momentum.
With the encouragement of the staff at Safe Haven, Jazz began to set goals for himself. He volunteered to help clean. He felt like he was finally getting the resources he needed to succeed.
“I told myself I was never going back down that road. When you’re out there for years and then you come here and get the resources, it feels good. They stayed on me. They saw the good in me. It was a cycle and they helped me get out of the cycle. I had to take the pride out of me. My mind is focused now,” he said.
Four months after arriving at Safe Haven, Jazz accomplished one of those goals: he moved into his own apartment with the help of IPH. He has maintained that same safe and secure housing since 2012.
“I came from zero to 100. It made me feel so happy to have my key. When I moved in there, I had nothing. And then I had a brand-new bed and furniture. It all came from IPH,” said Jazz.
It wasn’t long before Jazz was able to apply his newfound focus to repairing relationships with his family, including his sister, children and grandchildren.
He takes tremendous pride in welcoming his family to his apartment, where he cooks for them while his grandkids play video games. His sister is now his first phone call each day.
“My sister calls me every morning and says ‘I love you to death. You’ve got your stuff together.’ It means so much to me to hear that from her,” said Jazz.
Even though he had his own home, Jazz continued to feel a strong connection to IPH. In 2013, he began working at Safe Haven as a seasonal employee. He has been a fixture of the emergency shelter ever since.
He references a hoodie emblazoned with the words “honesty, loyalty and respect.” He often wears this hoodie to work as a reminder to not only continue practicing these values in his daily life, but to impart them on the guests now seeking shelter in the same place he once did.
“I tell my friends in here: ‘I’m no better than you all. I used to do the things you do. You want this? You need to start listening and get your mind right,’” said Jazz. “I may be strict on them…but I also give them some love. They know that I’m going to give them respect. I teach them that here. It’s a system. You have to humble yourself. They open up to me because they know I’ve been there. They know I’m on their side. I tell them you can do it if you want it. But you have to want it real bad.”
Jazz hopes to take his work one step further. He wants to go back to school to study social work and become a counselor. He wants to share his experiences with others.
“I want to get people off the streets. I want to take them places and help them. Give them the resources that get you back on your feet,” he said.
He calls the Safe Haven staff who helped him accomplish those same objectives his idols.
“Shahmeeka and Cleveland are my family,” said Jazz, referencing the IPH staff members who welcomed him to Safe Haven and he now works alongside. “I thank them every morning. I’m good because of them.”
Jazz still walks the streets. He often gives people money or a helping hand. Familiar faces ask him to hang out, to return to their old ways.
“They ask if I’m staying in here,” he said, referring to his apartment. “And I say yes. Because I know what’s out there. I came a long way. I came with holes in my sneakers. Sleeping in boxes, in blizzards. And since I’ve been staying in here, I’ve been moving forward. And I keep moving forward.”
He encourages those familiar faces to join him. He wants them to find the same respect for themselves that he fought hard to regain. He knows that IPH can help them find it. He wants them to come inside.
But until then, he’ll continue doing what he can – showing up to work each day with a positive attitude. Being the friendly face that greets those experiencing the tremendous difficulties and challenges of being homeless.
“Positivity brings you into the light,” he said. “And there’s positive people here. When you get positive people, you get positive stuff back. Show your love and your heart.”
As we experience the coldest days of the winter season, we need your help to ensure guests at Safe Haven receive the same life-changing support as Jazz.
Your donation will provide not only warm, safe and secure shelter to individuals experiencing homelessness, but also the same judgment-free care that Jazz credits for his success.
Join Jazz in sharing your positivity with a donation today at https://bit.ly/3l22gHA.