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'Small Sums' add up: Organization supplies homeless workers with job essentials

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Small Sums Executive Director Terre Thomas holds work shoes Nov. 9, 2017, that are available to homeless clients starting new jobs. The organization’s University Avenue office houses dozens of pairs of work shoes and pants. Michael Brun / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Small items can make a big difference when it comes to getting out of homelessness.

"Being homeless is expensive and exhaustive," said Terre Thomas, executive director of the Twin Cities-based nonprofit Small Sums.

Steady income is an important piece to securing stable housing, Thomas said, but success at a new job can hinge on having access to something as basic as a good pair of shoes.

Small Sums works one on one to supply homeless workers with job essentials as well as professional trade testing and licenses. The organization's programs include:

• Dressed and Ready: Providing clothes — including scrubs, steel-toe boots and sturdy work pants — for clients working in construction, warehousing, manufacturing, food service and health care.

• Tools for the Trade: Providing tools for construction workers, welders, barbers, chefs and other trades.

• On the Bus: Providing bus passes for the first few months of employment.

Small Sums moves quickly, Thomas added, often providing assistance within a couple days from when an application is submitted.

After calling to verify eligibility and filling out an online application, clients are welcomed to the Small Sums office on University Avenue in St. Paul for an in-person meeting.

"I sit down and talk with the clients, and just get really clear about what they need for their job," said Leah Johnston, the client services administrative coordinator. "If they're a business casual client, they need a dress for success appointment. Or maybe they need something for an outside job like tools."

Johnston said it is rewarding to see Small Sums clients leave the office with their heads held high.

"They've done the hard work, they got the job," she said. "So we're just celebrating with them and giving them things they need to be successful."

People in need

Small Sums helped 539 individuals in 2016 and is on track to assist 600 individuals in 2017, the organization says. The goal for 2018 is 700.

There were 6,202 persons experiencing homelessness in the Twin Cities seven-county region — which includes Dakota and Washington counties — in 2015, according to a census of emergency shelters and other non-shelter locations on a night in October of that year. Wilder Research conducts the one-night survey every three years. Of the homeless adults surveyed in 2015, 38 percent said a lack of job or income was among the biggest obstacles to obtaining housing, according to the report.

More information on Small Sums, including eligibility requirements and how to donate, is available at www.smallsums.org.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

(651) 301-7875
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