Tupelo's homeless a source for labor

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – James Simmons walks around town most days with no money, no hope and even less self-worth.
Simmons hitchhiked to the area two years ago from Michigan in search of more opportunities. But he hasn’t had much luck with steady work and is now part of the city’s homeless population, spending his evenings at the Salvation Army shelter.
That doesn’t mean he, or other homeless people, aren’t looking for their opportunities.
“Most of the people here like to work,” said Susan Gilbert, director of the Salvation Army. “And even though they are not skilled at one particular thing, they are willing and most of them able to do any small jobs. If people give them a chance, they can and will do the work.”
The Salvation Army encourages people to request the services of its tenants for work around their homes or businesses.
Simmons said he has been asked to rake leaves, mow lawns and clean garbage from around properties. What seem like odds-and-ends jobs for $30 or $40, he said, are worth a lot to someone who has nothing.
“When you have to ask people for help just to get a decent meal sometimes it is embarrassing and makes you feel less of a man,” he said. “But when someone actually pays you for doing a job, a real job that they needed help with, then for that instance you get your manhood back.”
Tom Hewitt, owner of Yard Dog landscaping business, often uses people from the shelter to help him with mowing, pulling weeds and other small jobs that don’t require a lot of skill.
Although he says he’s had mixed results with labor from the shelter, he still makes the Salvation Army the first place he calls.
“For one, you know the work force is there and two, most of them want to work,” said Hewitt. “It makes me feel good to see someone with no or little hope to come and work for me and do well. I don’t mind paying an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work.”
Gilbert said that some employers have received an honest day’s work from the tenants but without paying an honest day’s wage.
“All I ask is that you be fair and pay them fairly,” said Gilbert. “We’ve had guys work for eight hours and only get $25, and that’s just not right.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@journalinc.com.