TRAVERSE CITY —
Rich Tomey spent years working in homeless shelters, helping those who found themselves running out of options.
He now gives himself two months before he might need to find help himself.
Two weeks ago Tomey was fired from his Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan street outreach position. The news "flabbergasted" Jerry Jones and others who depend on services like the Safe Harbor shelter network.
"(Tomey) has more trust among the people displaced in this town than anybody else," Jones said. "If there’s a problem, he’s the first person we’ll talk to."
Jones might not have voiced that praise 10 years ago, when Tomey kicked him out of the Goodwill Inn homeless shelter for breaking its rules. The move angered him at the time, but he grew to respect Tomey so much that he recently started a petition to support the ousted Goodwill employee.
Within days, he'd amassed close to 100 signatures. Recent estimates indicate more than 300 people in the Grand Traverse region live on the streets or in shelters.
Tomey said the support is humbling, but does not believe he'll be returned to his old position.
"I always have (and) I still support Goodwill," he said. "Obviously, I can’t do a lot with them any longer (but) I have no vendetta."
Ryan Hannon, street outreach coordinator with Goodwill, said he could comment on the dismissal.
"Unfortunately, per Goodwill policy we may not discuss (personnel) matters because of confidentiality concerns," he said.
Hannon said he is now the only Goodwill employee working street outreach. The company is looking to fill Tomey's full-time position.
The Safe Harbor network is a partnership between local churches that provide shelter for the homeless or displaced during the winter months and Goodwill Industries, which manages operations and supervises volunteers.