Just like the folks he now serves, Lamont Grodeck used to be homeless.
As he stood outside the Centralia Train Depot on a cold Wednesday afternoon, he scanned for familiar faces as people walked past the transit center.
Grodeck runs a small homeless outreach program aimed at veterans called American Pride Associates. He said working from that angle, as a veteran, he understands homelessness presents its own challenges for those who have served.
“We’re too damn proud to ask for help,” he said.
Years after his own military service ended, Grodeck said he ended up on the streets living out of a van. He worked various jobs and struggled with addiction.
But that all changed after Sept. 11, 2001. The terror attacks spurred him to action, Grodeck said.
He decided to get clean and turn his life around. After spending time recovering in Portland, he moved to Olympia where he got involved in outreach programs. It became his motivation for staying clean.
“Get involved doing something,” he said.
While he partners with many area organizations, his outreach program has been based out of Grand Mound for the last four years or so.
He said he will help anyone, but if donations he receives are earmarked for veterans, he’ll try to honor that.
Grodeck, his wife and his son head down to the Centralia station every Wednesday with a large tote container he calls “Monty’s Box.” It’s packed with items like socks, razors, gloves, hats, Bibles, sleeping bags and more. He sets it up and waits for people to come by, then offers them some essentials and conversation.
While he will help the people he meets get connected and off the streets if they ask, he said he’s there mainly to provide supplies.
“You just give it out and do what you can,” he said.
He also makes appearances at local meals and other events, to check in with people he’s met on the streets.
“We’ll just come and hang out,” he said.
American Pride Associates accepts appliances and furniture, which he gives to people moving from homelessness to low-income housing. Items like microwaves or even a chair can make a big difference to many folks, he said.
There’s a core group of 35 to 40 people he regularly sees, with many more who blow through town. But regardless of if they’re residents or not, Grodeck offers them help.
At its core, American Pride Associates has a simple, human message.
“Just cause you’re homeless doesn’t mean you can’t have pride,” Grodeck said.
Grodeck said many people may view people experiencing homelessness as addicts or irresponsible, but he cautioned that in an economy that has seen many of the best jobs go to larger cities, it’s a circumstance that can happen suddenly and indiscriminately.
“The way the times are, it could be anybody,” he said. “You could lose your job; you could get a divorce.”
Grodeck said the best way to reach his organization is to email him at AmericanPrideAssociates@yahoo.com or call 360-489-8016.