The reality of what we experience every day with people who are trying to make a change. A lot of people that don't live that close to this, some of the ideas and policies, and attitudes around homelessness can be really unhelpful for the lack of a better word. It's so much harder than you think it is. You think, well, just go get a job. I mean, it's just so much harder than you think it is.
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Have you ever gotten frustrated with the waste management department in your city? Because they won't pick up glass with your recycling. That's what happens in Nashville. And they say it's because of the liability with the broken glass, but really they're just pushing the liability with the glass over to the regular trash service. I get it though. They have to pick through the recycling to separate items and glass causes them a lot of problems, so they don't pick it up anymore. And then most people abandon the practice to recycle it at the major recycling centers. This nonprofit saw an opportunity to employ people individually who need flexible work. So justice industries is helping with a unique solution, listen to what they're doing.
I'm Ellen Peterson. And I'm the director of, um, a nonprofit in Nashville called justice industries. And our mission is to employ people who have barriers to traditional employment. So we hire people who struggle with previous incarceration. Maybe they're struggling with homelessness. They have some addiction issues that they're overcoming, maybe they're fleeing domestic violence, or, um, simply are stuck in the cycle of generational poverty. So we create small businesses to employ people that would have a hard time getting hired. So, um, our most successful company is called just glass and it's a curbside glass recycling program in the greater Nashville area for both residences and commercial glass recycling that company provides about 200 hours worth of work each week for our team members. And we have close to a thousand customers in the greater Nashville areas, but our whole focus is on employment and workforce development and sustainable solution to, um, a revolving door of employment that many find themselves in.
I love that. I love, especially that you mentioned Just Glass because that is my pet peeve is that I cannot put glass in the recycling. And so then it goes into the trash unless I take it somewhere and we all know we have busy lives and who has time for that, right.
Glass is not collected by, um, the greater Metro area or a lot of, um, communities because it's heavy and it's expensive to transport. So we actually kind of just found this little niche that really works for us because the big companies, the big waste management companies really don't see a lot of value in it because it's not really profitable. So, um, it can be, and we have a great model that I think that works, but, um, but yeah, it's really great because we're able to get customers who have, um, a shared passion, shared passion for people kind of on the margins and then a shared passion for obviously taking care of our environment. So it's a, it's a really great little niche.
My next guest is another nonprofit that works well with Justice Industries to provide some of the employees for their social enterprise. These people are typically homeless. Most of them being veterans. Here's what Jim Ward director of Matthew 25 of Nashville has to say about what they do.
Matthew 25 is a men's homeless ministry here in Nashville. Uh, we began in 1986, uh, and our mission is to bring housing, help and hope to homeless men and homeless veterans in the Nashville area. Uh, we have a, a, a threefold approach to that if you will. The, the things that we try to cover many, many people who are experiencing homelessness are also experiencing in dealing with, uh, various, uh, mental health issues and particularly various addictions. So we bring them into our program and we work with getting them into recovery, uh, then getting them, uh, employed if they are employable and ultimately getting them into permanent stable housing that they are helping to pay for themselves. And so it it's a process of, of bringing folks in and, and getting them sort of off the streets, uh, or out of, uh, dangerous living situations that they, that they may be in bringing them into here.
Uh, we work a lot with the, uh, us, uh, veterans affairs department. So we do, we have a tremendous amount of veterans, uh, that, that come through our program and working in conjunction with them. Uh, and so we feed them house them, clothe them if necessary. Uh, and then we have weekly with several case managers whose job it is to work with these guys on a weekly and a daily basis to set their goals, to get them them in treatment, if necessary, get them in recovery, uh, move them forward into getting them housing, eliminating some of those barriers to employment and housing. And we've been talking with Ellen and justice industries because they are a great model for a place for where some of our guys can actually come, uh, and work. Uh, some of them have the, exactly the same issues I have, uh, felonies, or I have a bad work history, or I have, uh, long term addiction issues or things of that nature that they're trying to overcome. Uh, and sometimes that makes it difficult to, to get work.
Now, are you working with them on the mental health aspect as well? Like, are they getting therapy treatment? How, how does that work?
We don't actually provide licensed clinical therapy here at, at Matthew 25. We work in partnership with, um, Meharry medical college and the Lloyd Elam center for mental health. We also work, uh, with a mental health cooperative and park center here in Nashville to try to get them if, if they need individual level of therapy. We do conduct, uh, daily and weekly, uh, groups, AA groups, NA groups, celebrate recovery. We take men out to go to other groups. So we work really hard to get them into meetings and groups to, to, to work. Now we do counseling if you will, uh, but not, not therapy per se, but we do partner with other agencies to try to get them into therapy. If that's what they need.
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Have you found that the homelessness has increased in the Nashville area over the last couple of years since the pandemic started?
It seems like it's getting it is getting bigger. Uh, a part of that reason is, is that there is a, a segment of homelessness in, in the United States. And in that we are an attractive place to be homeless at this point, just like, uh, we're the fastest growing city in the south. We're also the fastest growing. Lots of people move here for a lot of different reasons. And, and there really is that sort of, um, uh, movement in, I will say with the benefit of our, the middle Testee VA, we have a pretty good homeless division here that works with homeless veterans. They have a good hospital system medical system here that's known in, in around. So you can go to Nashville and get good VA medical care. They have a homeless division there that will, that will work with you and help you, and really good that also saying though, you know, pandemic wise, we saw somewhat of an increase, although I will say interestingly, uh, a lot of federal dollars and a lot of state and local dollars went into almost emergency housing solutions to homelessness at the beginning of the pandemic.
And, and, um, and this wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but a lot of money was put in that direction. And so the goal was getting people off the street anyway, we possibly could housed anywhere we possibly could. So there was a lot of use of a lot of, uh, emergency shelters that were built. We used a lot of hotels around Nashville. There was a lot of different approaches to that early in the pandemic. One of the things that we have noticed is that our clientele, uh, for us during the pandemic has the number of addiction issues and, and co-occurring disorders has really increased. I mean, the majority vast majority of the people that we have in our program over the past two years, and the ones that we have right now are, are in addition to being homeless, in addition to having joblessness issues, their biggest issue is some pretty severe chemical and alcohol addiction issues. And that has been a change it's it's. Um, I don't know whether that just drove, you know, the pandemic obviously is probably driven. We know it's driven higher use of, of drugs across society, and that's not any different, I think in the homeless population,
Uh, every once in a while, I go for a walk along the river towards Metro center, there is a path that goes along the river. And in the past I had noticed a couple of little alcoves in the woods on the sides where people would live, they would have a tent popped up or something over there. And you could tell that some people were living there and under the bridges, et cetera. But let me tell you, 20 20, 20, 21, and now in 2022, I have seen an explosion. There's like little mini towns all along that river on the sides, and they're in the woods and they're on the bank and on both sides of that walking path and you know exactly where they are and they literally have there's generators. There are tents, there are tarps, there are fire pits, everything you can imagine, they have their little makeshift towns over there, and that has exploded in the last three years from what I've been able to see. So that makes me curious, how are you finding people? Where are you recruiting people to help
For us? We are, we are not an emergency overnight shelter organization. So, uh, we, we work with various agencies, as I said, the VA other groups in Nashville Room in the Inn, Operation Stand Down, Nashville rescue mission, uh, Metro social workers, um, and, and some other social work agencies. We take referrals for, for people to, to come into our program. Uh, we don't typically go out and knock on the tent door and ask people to, you know, to come to our program because we are that we are a program in that. Um, we want people to come in, who are wanting to not be homeless. Uh, and, and you can say that nobody wants to be homeless, but moving people to a place where I don't wanna live in a tent beside the river with a generator, I want to actually get stable housing, safe housing.
I want to get off of the, you know, the, the addiction issues that I'm dealing with. Uh, so that is, we take a lot of referrals and get a lot of referrals from, and you can go onto our website. You can download the application and, and the referral forms on any day. Now we have had people, uh, who will find us and come and walk in and say, I'm, I'm here, I'm homeless. I don't want to be homeless. Uh, we go through basically, uh, uh, induction process to see if they're, you know, someone who will benefit and that they're willing to follow the rules, cuz we have quite a few. When you come here, uh, you're going to be a part of the program. You're going to have chores. You're going to have regular, uh, drug screens. It's a sober living environment. You have to commit to that. Um, you have to commit to case management, uh, working with the social workers and things of that nature.
So I know that you help people, you help men, Jim, but Ellen, do you help women as well? You have. I mean like where are the women in the children going in this, in this mix? And you can also answer the question about, um, you know, where are you finding these people?
Sure. Yes. Um, so we do hire men and women. We will hire anyone who, um, kind of meets our partnership criteria, cuz we don't hire people off the street. We have, um, big hearted donors and customers that say, I see the same down my street corner every every day. Can you give him a job? But um, we have found that our team members are set up for their best success. When we partner with people like Jim and Matthew 25, we, a lot of the ones, he mentioned room at the end park center, operations stand down. We don't provide, uh, wraparound social services that Jim provides. And we're so grateful for what they do provide because anyone that's coming to work is obviously gonna bring with them. Um, you know, the baggage of their day, the baggage of their life out, all of us, it doesn't matter where you are in life.
Uh, you have a fight with your spouse when the way out the door, you're not gonna be in a good mood, be cranky with your coworkers. But the people that we employ are bringing their struggles to stay sober. They're bringing their, the weight of trying to qualify for housing and walk through the incredibly tedious process. So, um, we, we can't do what we do unless we partner with social service agencies because we don't have anyone on staff that helps our team. If you wanna work and you want an opportunity and you want a consistent job opportunity, you can find that at justice industries, through our businesses, like just glass. But, um, but that is so challenging. Cuz like Jim said, um, a minute ago you say, well, no one wants to be homeless, but there are few that, that, that have a hard time following the rules and the accountability after you've been on your own.
And there's a community of, um, uh, there's a, there's a strong house, homeless community and the homeless encampments that you mentioned. Um, we've had people that know people from years ago because they were kind of in the same struggle at the same time. So it's amazing how people know each other that we hire, even if I hired them in partnership with Matthew 25 or if I hired them in partnership with another social service agency, uh, the community is small or uh, and tight and they kind of know each other. So we have to find people that are willing to help the whole person because just giving someone a job without addressing some of the root issues that got them to where they are is not gonna help them. And they can't do it without the wraparound services and people that are investing in them.
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Where do you get your money? How is this coming about? And do you feel like, you know, there was this whole defund, the police thing, which really was probably not the best name for that, but to create a situation where you are offering more mental health type checks versus police checks, how are you navigating that type of thing or is that anything that you're dealing with right now?
Um, we're really fortunate because 61% of our revenue comes from our program services. So people, customers are just as important if not more so than donors for us. So, uh, we are a social enterprise with such with just glass. So people that align with our values often use our services that we provide. We also have a mobile car wash called just wash and we do some, um, light property maintenance cleaning called just clean. So those are kind of the three legs of our stool of businesses that we have. But um, all of those being social enterprise businesses, we can charge a fee for service for that. Um, so 60 about 62% of our revenue comes from fees for service. So we are so fortunate in that regard. Um, the rest of our money really just comes from, um, primarily individual giving some church partnerships, a handful of foundations and stuff. So,
So you're not necessarily running fundraisers. Like, you know, when I've worked with Jim in the past, we were doing bike tours and uh, you know, walks and runs and all these, you know, different types of fundraisers. Are you not doing it, having to do anything like that? Ellen,
We do. We still have to raise about 35% of our operating budget, but, um, one thing that we're really grateful for and what happened in COVID, I mean, you mentioned Jim, the alcohol, uh, and the dependency increase that you saw. We saw that in the non, um, homeless, uh, and that people in not in poverty as well, our customer base grew by like 32% during COVID cuz everybody was staying home and realizing how many glasses of wine they had at home and started to recycle those. So that was great for us, but um, but we do, we still do have to raise about 35% of our annual revenue for a lot of capital expenses and some of the really expensive overhead of insurance costs. And I mean, we have a fleet of five, four vehicles, so we have to ensure those and workers comp and stuff. But if, if all else fell away during COVID and we had to fire everyone, just glass could stay operational with just, um, the vans and the gas and the labor and one manager to manage the routes. And that was that's. We consider that a big win,
Not another idea for you. I don't know if you're looking for anything, but dog groomers are in high demand throughout COVID. So many people got new pets, dogs and cats, but we were trying to find a mobile dog grooming service to come and wash our elderly dog that has since passed. And because one of the places like the, one of the box stores, like the pet smarter pet, whatever it is, they would not take her because she was so old. And so we had to have a mobile groomer to come and help us, but it was a six month wait list or a thousand person wait list for cancellations. So we were not able to even do that. We ended up having to do it ourselves. We kind of did a hack job, but we did all right. You know, with grim and our dog, but just so you know, that that is another opportunity that could be very profitable, right from the get go with, um, you know, with like one of those mobile vans, if you've ever seen those.
I'll answer your question to how we, we fund, uh, we're a little more traditional, uh, in, in all the different aspects of, of our income. We do have, I would say probably 50, 55% of our income is, uh, currently through, uh, uh, a grant with the VA. So, and that is on a per person basis. So that will go up and that will go down depending on the number of people that we have actually in the program, uh, that actually went down considerably, uh, at the beginning of COVID because of what I said previously, uh, there were a lot of different ways to house people and, and some of them were not long term permanent, but they were, uh, we'll get you in a house. And if you have a choice of coming to me or any of the other programs and live through a program versus I can go stay in a hotel with no rules, um, that's gonna be what you choose, uh, in, in many instances.
So there, there was some of that, but we have that. We have been very fortunate with foundations and major and individual gifts, and that actually went up, uh, considerably during the COVID, uh, era. We turned and really made a strong push in that direction of help us keep the doors open, help us keep the men fed, help us keep, uh, you know, everybody going in that regard, cuz we're still here doing, you know, it's me and my staff or some of the few people I saw in the beginning of lockdowns, I would drive to work. And there was nobody on the roads, you know, in the early parts of 2020, when it all started, we were here, you know, our folks were coming to work every day, cuz our men were, were here and we were, uh, still doing what we do. Uh, we also do have a couple of special events.
We have a, a breakfast that we do in, in December and we're just starting, you'll you'll think this is funny, Sally, but we're trying to kick a walk off the ground, uh, here for, for late may. That's something that this organization has never done. Our biggest problem, which is great about this is, is always been, um, not enough people know who we are, uh, and that we're out there. And so trying to get in front of a lot of different demographics, uh, and as I always say, the walk appeals to really the, the, uh, we, the female demographic, we used to say, soccer, moms love to go to walks. That's why we did 'em uh, if you see, if you see a partner or a spouse out there, oftentimes it's because his Mrs or his girlfriend or his partner brought him to the walk. So we're trying to get out into that group and a lot of church groups and a lot of businesses like to put teams together and do that. And then we have been very fortunate. We have some longstanding Nashville area, uh, congregations that have supported Matthew 25 since the beginning. Uh, we were founded by members of two different churches, first pres and Christ church cathedral downtown. Um, it was a lay founding. They, some people from those two churches got together, said, we need to, we need to put this organization together. Uh, and, and several the churches in town steady, yearly contributors and supporters of Matthew as well.
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The thing that I think about all the time when it comes to homeless charity and the walk, I think of the Boulevard bolt that happens Thanksgiving morning every year, which has kind of become like a homecoming for a lot of people, uh, that they go and do that in the morning. And then they have their Thanksgiving day. Do you think that you could maybe develop into something like that where it's like, Hey, everybody's here, let's go do this walk,
Maybe, you know, it, it could become that sort of thing. No. Now the way, and the Boulevard vote has been very helpful. I mean, we, we, Matthew 25 have been a beneficiary of the monies raised in B raise the money and then they distribute to nonprofits out across Nashville. And we've very for, to of the ones that chosen to, to help funds. So we're in the niche of the things that they're looking to do originally with, with the Boulevard fold, obviously we'd like to see this become a sustaining yearly kind of thing. It's not, uh, we're not doing it. Uh, downtown those days are kind of over, uh, in the ability to add a new thing downtown, um, uh, metros, like please do not bring another parade through the middle of, of downtown. Uh, so we're doing it out at Warner parks, uh, and it's called a walk in the woods.
Uh, but it, you know, we hope it to become that type of thing. That's people look forward to, I'm gonna go out, I'm gonna ask my friend Sally to donate or join my team and come out and walk with me, uh, on Sunday afternoon, we're hoping for great weather. Um, we originally thought about doing it in the winter because just to kind of highlight the fact that, well, it's not fun to be homeless in the winter. Um, but that we just couldn't get it all put together that way. But, but the main goal for this is to raise some awareness and to raise some money and give a different group of people, let them know about Matthew 25 and that we're out there, uh, and have an opportunity to contribute. So what would you say would be your best marketing channel to let people know who you are?
We're kinda twofold. Um, we, um, we do tap the, um, environmentalist, um, niche a lot. Like we try to do some table events that like, we're going, gonna be at the, um, upcoming earth day festival in Centennial park at the end of the month. Um, and so some of those table events have been helpful for us. Um, we're also like anyone else trying to, you know, find a niche in social media, trying to make people see what we're doing and hear about what we're doing. Um, that's always so much harder than you think it is. so, um, we're doing that. Um, but mainly we've grown through word of mouth, um, which is really great and we'll go through a neighborhood and, you know, the neighbors will see the green bins out on pickup day and then they see the van drive through with the logo and think, Hey, where did that come from? I could use that. So we try to do some neighborhood marketing. I mean, anytime you're doing something like, um, curbside glass, recycling density is definitely your friend. So, um, it's interesting cuz we kind of try to straddle two worlds. So we also try very hard to stay visible and relevant for organizations like Matthew 25 to be, um, an employment partner. So we, we work hard to, to try to stay in close contact with a lot of people who are really much more on the front lines of, um, that than we are,
We're approaching it really in any and every direction that we can, um, three years ago. Um, we did nothing. Uh, we, we had a, um, I'll just say we had a really ugly Facebook page and a really old and wonky webpage. Uh, and uh, the previous executive director wisely brought on someone to help start making some changes in that direction. We, we, we didn't even do a digital newsletter, much less a mail out newsletter to donors. We just did none of those things. And uh, we have begun to be regular on that. Uh, and as we've done it, you know, there are a lot of different demographics. As I say, I always use my God lover 89 year old mother-in-law as exhibit a, she's the type of person who wants the newsletter printed in her end. You know, then every time she gets it, she will write a nice check back to Matthew 25 or rescue mission or anybody else that does something like that.
She's not going to do digital marketing. Uh, that's just not how it's gonna work. So we've tried to hit a lot of different venues and that has grown. As I told my board one time, it sounds very old school, but I've never lost any money. Once we started, you know, putting together a quarterly newsletter and printing the darn thing up and sticking it in the mail because I get money back and usually new donors. So that's growing same way, creating a mailing, uh, an email list. We've grown that from about 500 to about 2,500 at this point for us that in a year's time that's been a pretty big deal. Um, and so we can hit people digitally as well. We can do the same on, uh, Instagram and, and the, all the different socials as it were. Uh, and then we're also beginning to do, uh, an actual old school.
We're gonna pay some money. We're gonna reach out, uh, on some radio stations and get that voice over a, uh, and so that you hear about Matthew25nashville.org and how you can come to help. And we're doing that in conjunction with the walk. We're working with a couple of the, uh, um, this time around, we're doing it with one of the Christian radios, Christian contemporary Christian music, radio stations here in town, trying to hit all the ways that people can find us in, in the way that they listen to. Um, I, I eventually, as I've told my team, I'd also why not be on the sports channel cuz that's what I listened to all of just different ways of doing that and trying to blast through Facebook blasts and actual spending money, which is not something that necessarily this organization has been used to doing when it, when it, uh, trying to get our message out there, but it tends to come back, uh, and help us as much. So something like this being on podcasts and then finally for us, as I tell my board, you need to get me and my team, uh, in front of as many churches as you possibly can. Cuz every time we go, every time we talk to a congregation, they're like, oh wow, we really need to be supporting y'all are y'all are answering that call in Matthew 25 of I was homeless and naked and hungry and you took me in and we're like, yep, that's what we're trying to do. So
I'll just piggyback on that, Jim, cuz that is so true. You have to spend money. And I think that as a, you know, as a social enterprise, our board might be a little more receptive to that. Cause we have a business to run while we also have this mission focus and being a nonprofit. But um, yeah, we have to do direct mailings, which are expensive, but you just have to, you just spend money, you have to say yes to as many things as you can. Like you said, Jim, um, we donated a silly car wash gift certificate to the Y w C a the wine and cheese event that they do every year. And um, a news channel, five anchor won it and ended up being a story on us,
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The reality of what we experience every day with people who are trying to make a change. A lot of people that don't live that close to this, some of the ideas and policies and, and, and attitudes around homelessness can be, uh, really unhelpful for the lack of a better word. It's so much harder than you think it is. You think, well, just go get a job. I mean, it's just so much harder than you think it is. It is generations of trauma, generations of mindset, generations of dependency. So trying to empower someone out of generations of a certain way of life is just really challenging. So it takes a lot of compassion. It takes a lot of grace. It takes a lot of tenacity. You know, if you're one of the people that sees somebody and thinks, oh, what can I do? Go ask someone like Jim, or go get aligned with someone who has been doing it for a long time, that that knows the ins and outs of this because it is not a simple fix. It is not a simple, easy solution, but that doesn't mean we, we don't keep trying.
It's also though you look and you see that guy on the corner that you see every day or you see, uh, the people downtown. And the question is in your head is what can I do? I, I wanna do something. I need to do something really. The answer is not giving them $20. The answer is not bringing them into your home, seek out those places in whatever city. But it certainly here in Nashville, there are tons of us that are trying to approach this in various and sundry ways with the end goal of addressing root causes and getting people stable in houses. And you can just look, 'em look us up. We're all here. We're committed to try to change the trajectory. And that's, that's a phrase that we use here at Matthew 25. It's it's not enough really to, to get you fed tonight in a warm bed tonight. That's important. Um, but trying to change the trajectory of your life and giving you as much help in doing that so that you are not, uh, homeless at the, at a period in the future. And that I think that is the goal really of most, all of us in this group is saying, you know, there we can help.
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