On Monday and Tuesday nights, Colfax Avenue motels are visited by an organization called Mean Street Ministry. Mondays are east Colfax and Tuesdays are the west side. Chaplain James Fry is the executive director of MSM, an outreach program for people just barely surviving.
What these people earn is barely enough to cover the cost of a night in the motels. Jim says the west side is “the broken of the broken.” He refers to many of the poor on this side of town as the “shadow people.” Addiction issues abound and there is a definite, desperateness to these lives.
The east Colfax projects are bigger, but a little newer construction (built in the ‘60’s & ‘70’s). He finds more families here in the apartments, many multiple family living arrangements, but the motels are nearly the identical story.
And he relates what he calls a composite story, a recurring motif of this plight:
High school sweethearts get married. Their parents disapprove. Early, unplanned pregnancy. At first making some reasonably good income, but then another pregnancy. Maybe alcohol issues. Romance wears thin. Fighting, maybe some domestic violence. A DUI. They burn through friends that will drive them and lose their job. Maybe they get a second chance at a job, but then their license is suspended. They end up in jail, and then end up in a motel on Colfax.
“It’s a death sentence not having a driver’s license.” Jim says. If you can’t get to the job site or find ride, you won’t be making income. “And then you add double digit unemployment into the mix…”
Mean Street Ministry knocks on doors, offering a friendly face from out of the darkness. Jim says their goal is to “reconnect people with the desire to help themselves. When people realize that it’s not over, they step out of that despair and try again.”
MSM has a food bank that distributes about 5000 pounds per week (11 tons in stock at any given time). In addition, they offer a family rescue program, AA meetings, bible studies, and even a nursery for the at-risk children. MSM is also contemplating developing a former prison halfway house into a transitional housing program for these families on the edge.
To get involved, visit MSM.