Due to an excellent staff and "good people" residents, First Step House made a number of dramatic changes. For one thing, it became an active, contributing member of the local community council.
But other changes occurred. Nighttime security had always been furnished by residents. They were paid a nominal amount as part of a work-training program. We extended that security service to security checks during the night for senior citizens in the neighborhood as a regular and permanent service. On request, we did the same for other neighbors when they were on vacation. This service grew to include cutting lawns and shoveling snow for needy neighbors. This reversal of First Step House relationships with neighbors was crowned when a young couple living nearby lost their little girl, about 5 or 6 years old. They had combed the surrounding streets and not found her. They called First Step House and asked for help in locating their daughter. We sent out several pair of residents. One pair found her in an alley, scared and confused. They brought her back to the facility. We called the parents and fed the little girl ice cream until they arrived.
Yes, the population has changed since then. The numbers have increased. The homeless shelters are sometimes shorter term than First Step House. We screened residents for these tasks. Some residents were not allowed to deliver these services. Occasionally a resident did not perform as "expected." But the axiom, "If you expect a person to do good things, the odds are greatly increased that they will do good things," has not changed.
Effort must be put into controlling the criminal aspects of a homeless shelter. But if equal effort were put into this "good people" aspect of the homeless population, some good things might present themselves to those living near the shelter.
Errol Remington was director of First Step House from May 1985 to September 1986, and he worked for 20 years in substance abuse before retirement.