James Rogers began his Wednesday looking about the same as he did in December, when he was homeless: scruffy, long thin hair, wearing a T-shirt.
But 30 minutes after walking into this room, the 61-year-old has a handlebar mustache — something new he’s trying — and he’s wearing a blazer from Men’s Wearhouse.
“And then you never do the bottom button,” says Darcy Camden, owner of Styled Seattle, a personal wardrobe company, who helped him pick out the clothes.
“Never?” Rogers asks.
“Never,” Camden says. “It’s just a fashion rule.”
Rogers moves on. Camden and her stylists have to move quick, because they’re doing similar makeovers for over 50 formerly homeless men this week at Union Gospel Mission’s Riverton Place, a shelter and recovery program in Burien.
Union Gospel Mission (UGM) runs one of the larger faith-based recovery programs in the state, with nearly 60 men and women graduating from their programs last year. UGM says its data show that 77 percent of graduates will still be living in sobriety two years later.
On Wednesday, the men came in and got a haircut by stylists from Gene Juarez (where a men’s cut costs around $60), then went to Camden for an outfit (Camden said the average value each man walks out with is around $500), and then their photos were taken by professional photographer Sasha Reiko.
The change, at least in James Rogers, is remarkable. He came to Seattle in November from Moses Lake, where things fell apart with his marriage because of an addiction to alcohol. Rogers was in UGM’s program 14 years ago and it had kept him sober for years, so he figured God was calling him back. He gave everything away, went to Seattle, and slept in the streets for almost two weeks before getting into the program in December.
Rogers looks totally different. He’s a small man, but he sits straight up, his shoulders relax, and for what seems like the first time since he started today, smiles with his eyes at the photographer.
“How do you feel?” Camden asks.
“Like a new man,” Rogers says.
This is the second year Union Gospel Mission has done a makeover fair like this, but it’s the first time they’ve done it for homeless men. Some of these men will wear these clothes to graduation this week; some will wear them to job interviews. Rogers isn’t yet halfway through the program, but after he graduates, he wants to go to culinary school and get a job at a restaurant.
“This is comfortable for me,” Rogers said, smiling and sitting back in his new clothes. “It’s age-appropriate.”
Camden personally went to 12 stores, including every Men’s Wearhouse in the region, she says, and scoured the clearance racks to get clothes and backup clothes for today. The clothes were paid for by donations and some of UGM’s general budget.
“We see so much of the drudgery and the void of hope on the streets,” said Terry Pallas, UGM’s chief program officer, “and it’s beautiful to see the light and the hope that also exists.”