Dennis Robinson sits in his room in the X-WING at SVdP's Washington Street Shelter.

Working his way from homelessness

SVdP's Workforce Development program gave Dennis support and community in his journey to regain his stability

Dennis Robinson sat pensively on the bed in his small room. Despite it being in a shelter, he had the whole space to himself. With his work uniform buried in his hamper, his desk filled with his things, and his bed covered with his new sheets, he had fully made the space his own.

He had come a long way in just a few months, and experienced a lot of trauma along the way. After living on the streets and in shelter for months, he was determined to regain permanent housing for himself. Now, thanks to the stability and workforce help from St. Vincent de Paul, he has a well-paying job, is working to find a new home, and ready to start his new life.

In late July 2023, Dennis got the sad news that his sister had passed away. He traveled to Iowa for a week to see family and attend his sister’s funeral.

“When I came back, the house was empty,” Dennis said. “The furniture was gone and the room I was in was locked and my stuff was in there.”

Dennis had been living in a Sober Living Community — one that was shut down in the week Dennis was out of town. Everyone who had been living in the house was gone, and when he called to find out what had happened, they told him he needed to be out of the place by the next day.

Dennis stands in front of his room in the X-WING.

“I didn’t have anywhere to go,” he said. “It felt like the rug was pulled out from under me.”

He called 2-1-1, and they set him up in a motel for a few weeks, but it wasn’t a permanent solution. On top of all that, his moped scooter, his trusty steed and only mode of transportation, broke down.

Fortunately, he was put into contact with SVdP, and he was able to stay at the Washington Street shelter just outside of downtown Phoenix. There, he was able to have a safe, stable place to sleep, get 3 hot meals a day, and get case management from social workers helping him get back into housing.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, Dennis was still reeling from one of the most traumatic experiences of his life.

“It was a bad situation that happened to me, but I can't take that bad situation and sit on it, dwell on it, and ponder on it,” he said. “I took that situation. I observed it. I understood it. And I want to change.”

At the shelter, he met Lindsay Brown and Erinn Demario, the program manager and program supervisor, respectively, of SVdP’s Workforce Development program.

Workforce Development focuses on preparing shelter residents for the workforce by helping them develop useful skills or items so that they can attain a steady job. Having that employment not only helps them get into housing faster, but also keeps their situation stable once they’re on their own.

The biggest thing Dennis said he needed help with was having a place to himself, and having his scooter fixed so he could have transportation once he landed a job. Lindsay and Erinn knew they could help with that. The team was able to quickly set up help for Dennis’s scooter so he could have his wheels back.

Erinn and Lindsay also saw potential in Dennis and thought he would be a good candidate for Workforce Development’s new X-WING pilot program.

The program allows residents to have their own room or a room shared with only one other person in a special X-WING facility at the Washington Street shelter. This small, personal shelter gives residents the space to focus on their workforce goals.

Dennis sits in his room in the X-WING.

Having a community with shared objectives also allows for specialized, intensive workforce case management that has an emphasis on reentering the workforce and finding a stable job that will support a guest when they get permanent housing.

“What we found out was when we put people with similar goals in the same spot, they support each other. It’s almost like a fellowship type thing,” Erinn said. “The idea is to give people a space to concentrate and work toward goals, and they have each other to support one another too.”

When they saw Dennis’s drive and ambition, his desire to better his life, they knew he’d be a good candidate for the program. When the new X-WING building opened, Dennis was the first one to move in.

Shortly after, Dennis heard about a job opening at a local business and decided to go for a walk. He applied and was, “hired right off the bat.”

“The X-Wing gave me back my motivation to my drive to want to succeed in life,” he said.

Since Dennis was hired, he’s been working six days a week and saving much of his money. He is looking to get an apartment this Spring, and eventually wants to upgrade his transportation soon so he doesn’t need to rely on his scooter for everything.

Erinn has noticed Dennis’s change too.

“Thing most impressive about Dennis is the way he’s transformed and found a purpose again through working and being supported,” she said. “He’s turned into a person who has a plan, has confidence. He’s got a solid plan now. He's got this totally different trajectory after getting the support he needed.”