Solomon Dean; A Lifetime Of Dedication

Congratulations to our Deputy Director of Day Services, Solomon Dean, for being the 2021 recipient of the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless Kent & Mary Beittel Lifetime Achievement Award!

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“Fair, Consistent & Predictable.”  Those are the words our Deputy Director Of Day Services Solomon Dean has lived by working at The Open Shelter for almost a quarter of a century.  We sat down with Solomon so that he could share more with you, our supporters and friends.

“I used to work for a rehab center on Bryden Rd.  The owner would call staff members up during meetings and belittle them.  She would have them crying.  These were grown people crying.  That is how she disciplined you.  Knowing me, I said ‘I need to find another job’.  So a friend of my sister’s, Gloria, told me about The Open Shelter.”

“So I put in my application, did my interview and lo and behold, they hired me!  My first impression was ‘Oh My God!  They got me in this garage!  Working nights with these stinky men!’  (Laughing)  They started me off with third shift.  It was a six month probationary period.  I was used to working third shift anyway, so it was good.”

“Kent & Mary Beittel (our founders) taught me about not judging people.  Everyone who is homeless is not the same.  People have different reasons for being homeless.  They taught me a lot.  I was a work in progress, still am.”

“They taught me about working in the gray area.  Things are not always black and white. They taught me about people.  Differences in people.  Different needs.”

“I love my job!  I try to work in that gray area.  Trying to understand people’s needs and wants.  You never know why a person needs something to start off.  It may be someone who doesn’t have a pair of clean or dry socks.  Their feet may be wet, so give them a pair of socks.  If it’s cold outside, give them a pair of gloves and some hand warmers.” 

“I try to spend time to get to know and listen to a person.  I had a problem with not listening even though I thought I was listening.  You actually have to sit down and listen to the person.  Really think about the person and put yourself in their position.  What would you do in that situation?”

“My biggest challenge on a day-to-day basis is our guests.  One day they can come up and just be nice and then the next day, they could be cussing, yelling and screaming.  We work with those some would consider the ‘bottom of the barrel’.  Our guests in many cases have been thrown out every place else and have nowhere else to go.”

“My biggest reward is when I help someone and see they got housed. I saw a guy on the bus that I haven’t seen in almost three years.  He was so excited to see me.  He let me know how much we had done for him.  He told me that if it wasn’t for The Open Shelter, he would probably be dead somewhere.”

“There’s this guy, we call him Uncle Benny.  I have seen Uncle Benny go from walking to now in a wheelchair.  He tells his nephew Frank all the time, ‘I want to go to The Open Shelter and see Mr. Solomon.’  I see them on the bus every now and then because they catch the same bus I do.”  

“The other day I was on the bus and I kept seeing this guy.  He had his mask on and I kept thinking to myself, ‘He looks awfully familiar’.  I normally don’t speak to people on the bus because last time I spoke to someone on the bus they gave me a really dirty look and were kind of mean to me.  But I kept thinking ‘this guy looks really familiar’.  Then he said ‘Solomon!’ and then once I got to talking to him, it was Uncle Benny.  His face lit up. He was smiling. He told me he wanted some water.  I told him to come to The Open Shelter and get some water.”  

“I see guests every now and then that have moved on.  That have been housed and have lost housing.  They may have lost their housing because they let too many people stay with them or they were trying to be nice and let a person get out of the cold.”

“I am from the East Coast.  I was born in Trenton, New Jersey.  I come from a family of drug addicts and alcoholics.  I was wanting to fit in.  I came back to New Jersey when I was 12.  I came from a middle class family to living in the projects.  That was a big culture shock to me.  I wanted to fit in with my mother’s kids.  I started doing bad things that they were doing.”

“I signed up for the delayed entry program in the Army when I was 17.  I was told I had to either go work with my dad, go into the service or go to college.  First and foremost, I ain’t no college material.  Secondly, I wasn’t working for pennies.  My dad was like ‘you are living with me, I am feeding you, I am clothing you, so I am going to give you what I think you need.’  And that was nothing.  So I decided to sign up with the service.  I didn’t tell anyone.  I just went ahead and did it.  When I was accepted, then I told everybody.  Everybody was happy.”

“I didn’t graduate high school until I was 19.  I was a bad kid.  I wasn’t going to school.  Too busy drinking, smoking and hanging out.  When you are a teenager, you think you are grown.  So I went into the service.  I went to Fort Ben in Indianapolis, Fort Knox in Kentucky.  I was stationed in San Antonio.  My last duty assignment was in Germany.  I wanted to make a career out of it.  I was an office clerk.  I wanted to come stateside but they wanted me to stay in Germany for another 18 months to two years.  I did not want to do that.  So I just got out.”

“I went back to New Jersey when I was 24.  I stayed with my mom and was drinking and drugging, trying to fit in.  I got tired of that.  I tried to commit suicide when I was 29.  I took a bunch of pills.  Drank a bunch of liquor.  I was evicted from two apartments because of drug use.”

“I always tried to be a ‘part of’.  I always wanted to know about the other side of my family.  Learning about them made me learn about myself.  I tried to commit suicide for acceptance.  I told my cousin what was going on regarding my attempt.  I don’t know if she believed me or not.  So I went back upstairs and took some more pills.  Next thing I knew, an ambulance was taking me out.  I did about two weeks in a psychiatric hospital where I had to deal with me and learn about me.  After I got out, I had to see a counselor once a week to start and then eventually twice a week.  I was a depressed person.”

“I got a lot of insight about what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be.  I just up and left for Ohio in 1990.  My oldest sister Deborah had been trying to get me to come here for years.  I worked for a group home for mentally disabled persons.  $5.75 an hour!  That’s what I worked for.  But I worked all the overtime I could.  I worked my way up to house manager.  I worked seven days a week.  I liked the job because it involved helping people.  I like helping people.”

“When I get bored, I get in trouble.  The group home took us from hourly to working four days on, three days off.  Then they started messing with my money.  Don’t mess with my money!  So someone suggested starting a union.  I was ‘ok, I am down’.  So I tried to start a union.  In the meantime, they found out I had a warrant from New Jersey for drugs.  They set me up.  I went to work and when I opened the doors, a marshal was there!  I ended up back in New Jersey and did an intensive supervision program.  The judge told me I had ‘rabbit’ in my blood and that I would never succeed in finishing the program.”

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“One thing I have learned about myself, don’t tell me about what I am not going to do.  Don’t tell me that I am not going to succeed or finish something.  I will finish it just to prove you wrong.  I ended up going back in front of that judge.  He was kind of surprised to see me.  The ********* ended up giving me a couple more months!  I ended up doing about 22 months in the program.  I got out and came back to Ohio in 1998. Kent & Mary Beittel were my world.  They taught me a lot.  They taught me about people living on the streets.”

“They taught me how to communicate with people.  They guided me.  They were quick to let me know when not to do something.  If you can’t do something for everybody, don’t do it for one person.” 

“I never thought I would last on this job for 23 years.  I was always told by my aunts, my uncles and grandmother once you find a job you love getting up and going to, stay with it.  I feel safe here.  I learn a lot.  Every day I learn something.”

“I would tell someone who is thinking about supporting The Open Shelter is first, we have the best food in town.  Number two, this is a wonderful place to come.  We do a lot.  You can come here with no shoes on your feet.  We will find you a pair of shoes.  You can come here from the hospital with just your gown on and we will give you clothes.  I love my job.  My life is an open book.  I share my story with people.  I sit back and really listen to the person.  If someone is having a bad day, I will talk and see what is going on with that person.  If you are crying, I will take the time to give you a hug.” 

“I think I am a loving and caring person.  People say that I can be mean.  I do care about you as long as you are open and honest with me.  Then I can be open and honest with you.  Don’t give me some sad story when it’s not true.” “If I didn’t have this job, I don’t know if I would still be alive.  This job saved my life.  That is one of the things I love about my job, it saved my life.  This is my life. I love my job.” 

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