Charities survive in part due to the efforts of workers who are willing to forgo a hefty salary for the deeper satisfaction that comes from working for a cause.
Some are closer to the cause than others. As the kitchen manager of Las Vegas rescue mission, Matthew Quinn made the transformation from needing help to giving it, from living on the streets to providing food and counsel to the homeless.
Quinn knows that the people he serves at the mission come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Nothing in his own past indicated that he would end up homeless.
“I never in my entire life saw myself living on a street. My family was very well off. I didn’t even ask them for help when I ended up on the street,” says Quinn.
He had been a successful chef before an addiction to drugs and alcohol eventually led to homelessness, and a deep sense of desperation.
“The summers felt so hot, I couldn’t breathe outside,” says Quinn. “It got harder because of my looks; I let my looks go … I was not the type of person to go into a shelter. I would just fall asleep on the sidewalk, wherever I fell. I would eat out of the dumpster.”
Quinn would go as long as six months without a shower. He’d take a shower when he went to jail, after he’d been arrested for a charge like jaywalking. Once he got arrested for having a ripped shirt.
He got money to pay for drugs and alcohol by panhandling, which he says was profitable – he made between $300-500 a day.
“I didn’t even need a sign,” says Quinn. “I looked so bad when I went to sleep, I would sleep next to the Bellagio, two things would happen - either I could go to jail, or I could wake up with a 20 or 100 dollar bill in my hand.”
Quinn became suicidal. “I thought about how great it would be to not wake up the next day.”
He lay on the sidewalk of Treasure Island, hopeless and lonely, and started to cry.
“I asked God for help for the first time in my life.”
Quinn got up on his feet and started walking, unsure of his destination. He went to UMC and several other care facilities before doctors suggested a halfway house. But he’d been down that route before. He knew he needed long-term help.
Someone suggested the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. At the end of his rehab program they asked him to stay on as a chef. He accepted.
Quinn could go back to working at a chic kitchen and make more money. But his experience being homeless has forever changed his priorities.
“I never knew what it was to feel that need before in my life before I was homeless, to actually need something, like life or death need,” says Quinn. “And I thought about all the people I met on the street, and everything I’ve gone through on the street. I was thinking about all the hardships and everything that goes on with folks, and I’m thinking I’m going to die someday. And when I die, if I go to work at high-end places, all I’m going to have is all this money left behind. But when I do this, this is what makes a difference to me.”