Sometimes life happens, and whether you’ve been dealt a bad hand by external factors or been complicit in bringing about your own undoing, or a combination of both, you can find yourself homeless and ass out.
Goldie’s Place is a support center for such people who are homeless and behind the eight ball.
Located at 5705 North Lincoln Avenue and founded in 1996, Goldie’s helps its participants transform themselves into healthy, hopeful, and productive members of the community by offering a unique combination of free services, including employability training and job placement, free dental care, and a clothes closet program to assist homeless individuals in becoming appropriately clothed, accessorized, and groomed.
Goldie’s Place’s services impact the lives of more than 1,000 homeless people each year, affording them the opportunity to gain self-sufficiency and self-confidence to aid in rebuilding their future.
It has placed nearly 500 participants in jobs over the last four years and provided over a million dollars worth of free dental services to homeless adults.
“The idea is self-sufficiency,” says Goldie’s Place CEO/Executive Director Johanna Dalton. “Helping people get themselves back on track to the point where they can improve their own lives and carry on – not to be given sort of a band-aid, but giving them the tools so they can move on with their lives.”
Goldie’s Place was born from the vision of the late Roberta Friend, a program director at Hilda’s Place, a shelter for the homeless in Evanston. Roberta, with two volunteers from Unity Church in Chicago, Joy Murphy and Johanna Dalton, offered basic tutoring in literacy skills and life skills assistance to the participants of that shelter.
After years of working with the homeless, Roberta realized that providing a bed and a meal for the homeless helped somewhat, but not a lot. They needed a support system in addition, involving emotional, educational and job guidance support, from a group of people committed to working with them on those supports.
Mr. Roy Dogan
So she started Goldie’s Place, named after Roy Dogan, street name “Goldie,” whom Roberta befriended at Hilda’s Place. Dogan “had had a very hard life on the streets since he was 13,” says Dalton and he was consumed by drug and alcohol problems.
He didn’t socialize or participate, and had a low opinion of himself. But one day, Roberta gave a party at Hilda’s and after it was over, Dogan grabbed a broom and helped her clean up. A bond began to form.
“But he’d keep meeting up with the triggers,” Dalton says. “He’d get an apartment, be okay for a while, but then be out on the streets again. He was really a bright guy, but it was clear that he had wasted his gifts and talents and put them to use in a way that wasn’t to his or anybody else’s benefit.”
In and out of jail, Goldie passed away April 22, 2000, in Cook County Hospital, where he was admitted in January of that year for overexposure to the cold as a result of his life on the streets. With frostbite on his hands and feet, Goldie underwent two amputations. He died of further complications, which most likely resulted from his difficult lifestyle.
Roberta, who had died two years earlier in 1998, “never gave up on him, he knew that she cared, they had a strong relationship,” says Dalton, “but we realized through Roy that you can only go so far.”
Though his life story can’t be described as a success, he taught the group some valuable lessons, “which we needed to learn in order to establish and maintain our center,” co-founder Joy Murphy writes on their website.
“We named our center Goldie’s Place in honor of those people who require an extra dose of compassion. He taught us that change is not a linear process. Improvements are made in small increments, and sometimes we regress.
“This is true for all of us, and especially true for these who are dealing with such profound challenges as homelessness, unemployment, illiteracy and addiction. Above all, Goldie taught us not to give up on the people we serve just when they need us the most.”
During its first year in 1996, basically as a one-woman shop, Goldie’s Place partnered with 10 social service agencies and offered services to 130 people. In 2013, Goldie’s Place collaborated with about 115 social service agencies and worked with over 1,000 participants to help them build a better life. The group now has 14 paid employees, a 13-member board of directors and more than 100 volunteers.
While Goldie’s initially operated out of a small storefront on Clark Street in Edgewater thanks to a $32,000 grant from the Chicago Dept. of Human Services, it is now housed in a much larger space at its current location, thanks to the donation of the rent-free space through 2027.
What Goldie’s Does
A strategic turn from their efforts at Hilda’s Place guided the formation of Goldie’s. Dalton says, “We realized that the clients needed literacy help, but they wanted a job, so we focused then on doing resumes for them.”
At Goldie’s, the centerpiece became an Employment Assistance Program, which is now under the direction of Teneshia Morgan. The program features comprehensive job search techniques, resume writing, application preparation, computer lab, and interview and presentation skills.
“We also do the job placement when a participant comes in for employment. They don’t just come develop a resume and then take that out to a job,” says Morgan.
“Think of us as your human resources department for your mom-and-pop local stores and businesses. They don’t always have a lot of time to do the hiring, recruiting and the outsourcing for their employment staff, so we are a free service for those organizations and businesses to find quality candidates for their jobs.”
Goldie’s clients are placed with various employers throughout the city, particularly in the logistics, healthcare, manufacturing, customer service, and hospitality industries.
Morgan realistically says that there is always going to be a stigma attached when you talk about hiring the homeless population. “We can’t shy away from that – we’re Goldie’s Place, we help homeless individuals,” she says. “But these are individuals that are skilled to do these jobs. They have the skill sets – they just don’t have any one to give them a second chance.”
She notes that Goldie’s puts potential hires through an exhaustive regimen. “We screen them,” she says. “We see them five times before we even consider sending them to an employer. We know the individuals, whether they’re going to show on time, be prepared, if they can do the job, or if they have childcare for their kids.
“We know all that ahead of time – and all those issues that employers are very fearful of for the first 90 days orientation period, we’ve taken care of that because we know what’s going to come up.
“We do employment plans, identify what they want to do, what they’re background is as far as education and employment, and we look at their criminal background because when you let a potential employer know who you are completely, they’re more likely to give you a chance, because everyone makes mistakes.”
And if an employee is having problems with someone, Goldie’s “meets with our client to figure out the problem and we insure employment retention,” Morgan says.
Goldie’s second primary facet is the Dental Program, currently under the direction of Elizabeth Hutchinson. The scope of services ranges from basic dentistry to include root canal therapy, surgical extractions, installation of partials and full dentures.
Having provided continuous dental services for the homeless since 1997, Goldie’s efforts took a tremendous leap forward in 2007-‘08 with the gift of a building by an angel donor and completion of a major capital project to establish a modern four-chair dental suite.
There are 24 volunteer dentists, and four dental hygienists who come in to do cleanings. Goldie’s also partners with the College of Dentistry at University of Illinois Chicago for a nationally recognized, first ever Student-Run Dental Clinic providing a hands-on experience of public health dentistry to over 200 students in the last three academic years.
Hutchinson says, “The dental program has provided about $1.3 million worth of free services over the last 10-plus years, which is amazing. Dentures on average cost about $7,000 and we’re able to provide that service for free.
“It’s so meaningful and life-changing because our patients come in in pain, uncomfortable, not wearing a smile, don’t know how to express themselves – and just the will to commit to what they go through – it’s a pretty extensive procedure, fixing teeth that are backwards, getting fillings, getting dentures, sometimes they have to see the oral surgeon to have bone removed, which is terrifying to people even in the dental industry.”
A Shining Example
Morgan cites one particularly good success story for a Goldie’s client that happened recently – the case of Denise, which was featured in the agency’s newsletter earlier this year.
Denise first came to Goldie’s Place for employment services on July 16, 2013 through a referral from the Salvation Army.
Denise had become homeless due to a history of drug and alcohol use. Although she had been clean for nine months and had stable housing through the Salvation Army, she was still unable to obtain employment.
“Denise had been imprisoned several times for drug-related charges,” Morgan says. “When we first saw her, her self-esteem was very low – she was very meek and mild and almost afraid of her own shadow. She was just afraid that she could never succeed in life because she had made so many mistakes and she was in and out of prison so many times.
“But in working with her, understanding and seeing her value and the greatness within her, she was eventually able to see that within herself and she took advantage of our clothing closet, making sure she had interview-appropriate attire. And she received a full set of dentures from our dental clinic.”
Through Goldie’s, Denise successfully completed the one-week employability workshop in which she was given instruction on application skills, interviewing techniques, and life skills, which greatly improved her self confidence.
She then received a referral to Goldie’s Place’s partnering employer, Shoreline Sightseeing, and was hired as a deckhand. Denise’s training, of all things, included learning to help people who fall overboard in the water. Although the position was seasonal, she was invited back to work for 2014, with the opportunity to be trained for a customer service position.
According to the newsletter, when Denise walked through the doors of Goldie’s Place for the first time, she didn’t know what to expect, but within 90 days, she transformed from being homeless and a substance abuser to training, employment, a wonderful smile, and being on her way to a better life in her own apartment.
Morgan says of Denise, “The self-esteem and vibrancy that she has right now – she’s not the same person that she came in here as, definitely not.”
Some Happily Ever Afters
Goldie’s clients come from referrals from about 115 shelter programs and homeless service providers throughout the city. They consist of those who are homeless without a roof – living in the streets, riding trains, etc.; and then individuals who are homeless with a roof – those in emergency, transitional, or interim housing programs. Referrals from these partnering agencies only are accepted.
Dalton cites Goldie’s client demographic as about 75 percent Black; 15-20 percent White; 60 percent male to 40 percent female, though that fluctuates; 10 percent veterans; with an average age between 30-50, no one under 18 as Goldie’s deals with strictly an adult population.
As far as the organization’s success rate, Morgan says, “We would like to say that there’s a happily ever after for everyone, but sometimes there’s not. They get off the street, they get a job, they have that wonderful smile now, they have clothes, they move into subsidized housing.”
Adds Hutchinson, “When you see somebody clean and get a job and how happy they are, it’s better than watching kids open presents at Christmas.”
But, Morgan continues, “Sometimes life still gets in the way and sometimes those coping skills are not always utilized and sometimes they end up homeless again and we may see them two or three years later and they may not have those dentures anymore or they may not have any clothing anymore.”
“The one-step forward, two-steps back thing is very familiar,” says Hutchinson. “You have to really focus on the ones that you can help and make a difference with and acknowledge the fact that not every body is ready to do it, not everyone is willing to make the commitment, but there are people who will give 110 percent because they’re ready to make the change. That’s what keeps you going.”
“But even if they slip, they come back,” says Morgan. “They realize that hey, you guys helped before and I know you can help me again. And we accept that. We do do-overs, absolutely! We don’t give up on them because they don’t give up on themselves, and as long as they’re willing to help themselves, we’re willing to help them.”
Johanna Dalton concludes, “After all, when you talk about changing someone’s life, that’s not a straight line; it’s harder.”
(For more information and to see how you can volunteer, visit goldiesplace.org.)