When COMO Turning Point Managing Director Darren Morton noticed many places the organization partners with were closing their doors at the onset of the pandemic, he knew that he and his team had to find a way to stay open. Because if they didn’t, the essential services Turning Point provides to Columbia’s homeless community would stop with it.
“Are we asking them for however long we take a break to not shower? To not be able to get their mail? To not be able to do the normal things that they deserve?” Morton said.
COMO Turning Point is being honored with one of the inaugural Kindness in Business awards in the Kindness to the Community category. The awards recognize businesses and organizations that have shown and promoted kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization, which is housed out of Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church, has made its mission to provide hope and dignity to the homeless community since 2012. It provides essentials, such as showers, laundry, a mailing address and rides to appointments or the courthouse, for homeless people, who often don’t have access to these services elsewhere.
Turning Point adjusted to the pandemic to avoid a disruption of its services. It added port-a-potties to avoid lines that would violate social distancing, added hand-washing stations in the parking lot, and cut all of its volunteers to keep the circle smaller. Three full-time and two-part time staffers work for the agency.
Morton spoke with Missouri Business Alert about COMO Turning Point and its response to the pandemic. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Missouri Business Alert: How does Turning Point try to embody kindness?
Darren Morton: You can’t be in this field of work if you don’t have compassion, if you don’t have understanding. I think our kindness comes through just our sacrifice. Throughout this whole pandemic, we haven’t stopped providing services. We have never shut our doors. We haven’t took a day off. I would say that’s how we embody kindness or selflessness: We have compassion.
MBA: What inspired you to stay open and continue to offer your services during the pandemic?
DM: I got a wife and three kids at home. I have two older staff that fall into the at-risk category. As I sat here, I was thinking and praying about it, it was, like, we can’t stop, because if we shut our doors, or if we are worried about ourselves being at risk, or if we’re so worried about ourselves being exposed, what about this whole community, these hundreds of people that don’t get that opportunity to be quarantined because they don’t have a place to quarantine at? And also, within that, are we asking them, for however long we take this break for, to not shower? To not be able to get their mail? To not be able to do the normal things that they deserve? They’re not in trouble. They’re not locked up. They’re not in jail. So why will we strip them from all the things that have been deemed necessary for them?
So it just comes back to that hope and dignity. We want to provide hope throughout the pandemic, just like we want to provide hope in your everyday life, to let you know that this isn’t the end game. You being homeless isn’t where life is for you; this is just a little hurdle.
MBA: What’s been the most difficult part of the last several months?
DM: I would say for me the most difficult is other places that are needed, shutting their doors, or stopping their services, or having a window of time where they do provide services to where it’s just not even feasible. I would say that’s the most frustrating part.
MBA: What’s been a ray of sunshine in the last several months?
DM: Just seeing the community and seeing how tough they are — how they continue
to take blow after blow and continue to find a way to find a smile. Those who come up here, they woke up in the woods, all their stuff is wet. They can’t go to this place because of COVID. This place, that was usually a shelter-type place for them, is shut down. They’ll still come in and just be appreciative and acknowledge and say, “Turning Point, thank you for having this door open.” So that’s been awesome to see that gratitude and appreciation.