Maddie Evans picked through the donated clothes at the Intrepid Stores thrift shop in east Santa Rosa, deciding which items could be sold and which should be thrown away.
The job has been a lifeline for Evans, 26, who is currently homeless and does not have a car. Both could be insurmountable hurdles to getting and holding down a job at many companies in Sonoma County.
But as an employee with Intrepid Stores, she gets clothes, a paycheck and a ride to work when she needs it. Some days she and other staff are picked up in a company van. Other times, Intrepid Stores will send a ride-share car to collect Evans wherever she’s found a place to sleep for the night.
“Most places would have turned me down,” said Evans, who returned to Sonoma County in December with no job or place to live. “I was really, really grateful for them hiring me. They knew my situation, and they were very very accommodating. They hired me right then and there on the spot.”
Intrepid Stores is the new name for four storefronts in Santa Rosa once operated by Crossing the Jordan Foundation, a now-defunct organization with thrift shops and halfway houses that became embroiled in legal battles with Sonoma County last year when its founders, Dana and Michael Bryant, refused to obey pandemic business closures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Multiple cases of the disease were linked to their facilities.
The current owners, Julie Puccini and her partner Monique Slayback, are both former residents of Crossing the Jordan programs. They say they are creating a new nonprofit with the best parts of the former owners’ philosophies and leaving behind the rest. Puccini said they are still focused on helping the same kinds of people who sought refuge at Crossing the Jordan’s self-improvement programs but they have streamlined their goals to focus on giving people job experience and training.
“Our mission is a little different,” Puccini said. “Our mission is to hire people that maybe nowhere else would hire.”
Their stores, which sell donated and consignment items, currently employ 21 people and aim to provide job experience and training for others who might find it hard to get hired elsewhere. Puccini said she and her partners did not take over Crossing the Jordan’s residential programs in Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, but they are developing plans to open a home for women and their children who need shelter.
She said Evans is precisely the kind of person they want to help: people who are caught in the Catch-22 of not being able to secure housing without a paycheck but who can’t get a job without a home.
Puccini said they try to help combat the financial burdens that build up when people struggle with addictions, homelessness, poverty and criminal convictions. They’ve paid off DUI fines to help people restore their driver’s licenses — a financial hurdle that can force people to make risky decisions, like driving with a suspended license to get to work.
The stores have become many people’s first jobs after years of addiction, incarceration and adversity. Many of their employees require hands-on training on how to dress and behave in a professional atmosphere.
“I can’t really think of anything we would not do to help someone be successful,” Puccini said. “I’ve helped people do their resumes. I’ve mentored them through a lot of drama.”