Little things can mean a lot — especially to homeless people trying to work

When people say, “Small things add up,” the nonprofit organization Small Sums, established in 2005, would agree. That insight is what informs their work helping homeless people get and keep jobs by providing what some people might see as small things.

Terre Thomas, executive director of Small Sums since 2013, says, “We aid…people who’ve experienced homelessness who have found a job and need some work items to take the job. Most typically we provide work shoes, work clothes, bus passes and tools if they are needed in their trade.”


“When you are homeless, it is exhausting, and it is daunting. You don’t get to go home every day and recharge and get yourself organized again, because you do not have a place to call home.”


Thomas expects to help a little over 600 people this year. “We expect the number will go up to seven hundred next year.”

Focusing on gainful employment as a key factor in helping homeless individuals get out of their homeless situation, the sole purpose of Small Sums is to help homeless individuals who found have work and need items to start the new job,

Thomas notes, “With our practical and timely assistance that few other agencies provide, we remove obstacles that often prevent homeless workers from being able to take a job.” The agency provides work clothes and shoes, trade tools, professional licenses or union dues, and bus passes so their clients have a reliable way to get to work every day until they receive a paycheck.

(Photos courtesy of Small Sums)

According to Thomas, “Half of the clients are referred to us by other organizations that work with people [who] are poor or homeless. They work in food service, retail or customer service, warehouse and manufacturing, healthcare and hospitality. They also work as general laborers and construction workers.

“When you are homeless,” Thomas continues, “it is exhausting, and it is daunting. You don’t get to go home every day and recharge and get yourself organized again, because you do not have a place to call home.

“If you are going to a shelter, often the shelters do not open until 6, 7, 8 o’clock at night. If you are about to get a job, that means that you are probably up at about 5 o’clock to get out the door, to catch the bus to get to work. So, it is exhausting and daunting and expensive.”

For people who are homeless, Thomas said, “there are also free meals. But you are eating out all the time because you do not have groceries and a place of your own. What we do is lift a couple of heavy burdens on terms of getting back on that path and getting back to home.”

Small Sums is located in a small warehouse district on University Avenue between Hamline and Lexington Avenues in St. Paul; however, they serve the entire seven-county area, and their location allows clients easy access with the Green Line light rail. About 50 percent of Small Sums’ clients live in Minneapolis, about 40 percent in St. Paul.

Where did the idea of Small Sums originate? The founder used to be on the board of People Serving People (PSP), the family shelter in downtown Minneapolis. While volunteering at PSP, he heard stories of people saying they could take a job but did not have the necessary items to do so. While visiting the East coast, he found an organization there that offered services like Smalls Sums. He returned to the Twin Cities and with four other men began the journey to providing work-related items to those in need of such help locally.

Thomas estimates there are about 1,000 to 2,000 homeless people in the Twin Cities who now have new jobs and need help. “It is just a matter of funding for us right now. We have a goal of over the next four years to keep growing and raising more money so that by the end of 2020 we are able to help everybody that needs are help.

“This means if Small Sums can average increased funding for 200 more people per year to have clothes, shoes, tools and transportation…we will as a village help raise and save our village.”

“We move very quickly for [our clients],” Thomas says, urging anyone who thinks they may be eligible for their help to visit Small Sums’ website.


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