Russ Harrison was sitting outside the downtown Seattle Public Library waiting for it to open when he first learned of the United States Mission.
A man held a sign advertising a transitional housing program.
Harrison, who is about 5'6" and has a slight build, was homeless, so he saw the program as a blessing.
He only lasted a week living at the United States Mission's Greenwood house. Staff there berated him for failing to raise enough money to earn his room and board. As punishment, they assigned him extra chores.
When Harrison finally objected, they kicked him out, threatening to call police if he didn't leave, he said.
He walked out before dinner with 70 cents in his pocket and spent the night on the street.
Harrison came forward to add to a Real Change story on the shelter and how it operates ("Mission implausible," RC, July 27.)
The United States Mission tries to control vulnerable people and does not have their best interests at heart, Harrison said.
Staff at the organization disagree with Harrison's story. United States Mission Office Manager Kris Giallombardo said staff asked Harrison to leave because he had a bad attitude and got aggressive. Giallombardo said Harrison's hardly the first to wash out of the program.
Constant cash flow
Fundraising is central to the United States Mission's residential program. Six days a week, house staff in Seattle drive a van of residents to a neighborhood and drop them off to go door-to-door soliciting donations. The Greenwood house is one of nine group houses in eight cities along the West Coast.
The men turn in the money to mission staff. At the end of the following week, the mission pays them 10 to 50 percent of what they bring home, depending on how much they raised.
During the week he tried it, Harrison said the group's field manager, Tom Cannon, yelled at him on the way back in the van.
"[They] belittle you and really put you down if you don't make money," Harrison said.
On July 23, after Harrison raised only $26, Cannon again dressed him down. Harrison told Cannon that the people he'd talked to that day didn't have any money to give.
Cannon said that was a bad attitude and he wasn't going to put up with it, Harrison recalled.
At the house, Harrison said Cannon got in his face and they started shouting at each other. From a back room, Harrison then heard Giallombardo say, "Cash him out," meaning he was fired.
Harrison said staff told him to leave immediately and, if he didn't, they'd call the police. He left before dinner, and, lacking bus fare, had to walk the eight miles from Greenwood to downtown in search of shelter.
He had no choice, he said.
"They could have said anything to get me arrested. They could have said I was threatening them," Harrison said.
Giallombardo said it was Harrison who yelled on July 23. He said Harrison threw the $26 he'd collected that day at Cannon and then got in his face, requiring another staff member to step between the two men.
"We cannot tolerate insubordination. We cannot allow someone to confront staff in a verbally abusive and physically aggressive [way]," Giallombardo said.
An agreement the men sign when they enter the house forbids insubordination, he said.
Giallombardo said Harrison never asked for his cut of the money when he left, but the mission calculated his portion on July 30 and the money is waiting for him at the house.
Giallombardo said Harrison isn't the first person to leave the mission angry, and he has contempt for most of them.
"They always want a pound of flesh and think they're going to sue us and do us harm. They're spiteful people," Giallombardo said.
After KIRO News aired a set of reports on the organization, the United States Mission filed a defamation lawsuit against KIRO that is now being appealed.
For Harrison, the case is closed. The soft-spoken 43-year-old, who has toiled in warehouses, machine shops and Alaska seafood plants, counts his stint with the United States Mission as the worst job he's ever had.
"Never has somebody had a hold of me like that," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."