Jeff has the best of both worlds: he thrives as a maintenance technician at an Equity Residential community in Alexandria, Va., and gets to go home after work to his family in the same community. His skill and passion for fixing things have made him invaluable to the residents as a worker and neighbor.
“Jeff is a motivated guy who never quits,” his General Manager, Chris Natale says. “His attitude and the skills he brought to Equity Residential are unmatched, and our community is far better off because of his working and living here.”
But before he landed with Equity Residential, everything in his life had been steadily slipping away. A former Marine and a master electrician, Jeff lost his job due to a round of downsizing. Soon, he didn't have enough money to afford his car payments, pay bills or keep up with rent for his townhome in Old Town Alexandria. He and his son ended up in a shelter for three months, with his wife in a separate shelter for women.
“I was so frustrated I wanted to cry,” Jeff says.
Jeff's case worker at the Carpenter’s Shelter asked if he’d be interested in pursuing a maintenance job for an apartment community through a program called Shelters to Shutters (S2S).
The Vienna, Va.-based nonprofit pairs people experiencing homelessness with apartment management companies. Through the S2S program, the apartment operators offer opportunity for both a job and housing to S2S participants. The organization focuses on the 70 percent of the homeless population who, like Jeff was, are situationally homeless due to a life-altering event, such as job loss, medical or health emergency, divorce, domestic abuse or the loss of a primary income earner.
Jeff seized the opportunity, landing his current job and a beautiful home for his family.
“There are so many people who have valuable skills and so many who are desperate for another chance,” Jeff says. “I think all apartment operators should know about this program and the incredible impact they can have by working with it, because it has a great impact on those that need it.”
S2S was founded in 2014 by Middleburg Real Estate Partners Managing Partner Christopher C. Finlay after he read a magazine article that changed his perception of the homeless population. He discovered that the vast majority of people experiencing homelessness are not chronically homeless because of severe mental illness or untreated substanceabuse problems, but instead are ready and willing to work.
“The situationally homeless have in-demand job skills and a passion for work, but have lost their homes through a series of circumstances beyond their control,” Shelters to Shutters CEO Andy Helmer says. The multifamily industry has the ability to provide both housing and jobs, so it’s uniquely positioned to combat homelessness,” “S2S and our partners are offering a real hand up by providing life-changing opportunities to get our participants back to self-sufficiency.”
Equity Residential is one of 20 apartment management partners for which S2S provides pre-screened, job-trained candidates who have been drug- and alcohol-free for more than a year for entry-level positions such as maintenance technicians and leasing agents. S2S works with a number of shelters and non-profits to identify suitable program participants.
Since the organization was founded, S2S has moved more than 100 people out of homelessness in markets throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, South and Texas.
Jeff recently reached the nine-month mark in the S2S program, and his excitement for this opportunity has not faded.
“It’s hard work but the residents show such appreciation for the work you do it makes you feel good about being able to assist others,” he says.
To date, Jeff has completed basic air conditioning and painting classes and has launched into training for his HVAC certification. With a six-month goal in mind, he plans on attaining his HVAC certification, with ambition to move up to Senior Technician.
But even more exciting is the trust and potential that Equity sees in him. He will be taking the instructor course to become a Basic Electrical Instructor for Equity employees.
Jeff has always loved to fix things. And now he’s once again putting his passion into action while driving high levels of resident satisfaction. “I know I’m needed here,” Jeff says. “And I feel like I’m making a difference in the residents’ lives.”
To those experiencing homelessness today or those new to the S2S program, he offers this advice: learn everything but find one thing to be passionate about and then go for the gold.
“My passion is in electrical work so I’m focusing on being the go-to guy in that area,” he says. “All jobs can be stressful, but if you find an aspect of your job that you are truly passionate about it makes it so much easier to get through your day and want to get up and do it again tomorrow.”