Working in the Capitol, sleeping on the street

Posted at 4:55 PM, Apr 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-24 16:57:52-04

WASHINGTON (CNN) — For Charles Gladden, home is a makeshift bed on a sidewalk next to D.C.’s McPherson Square Metro Station.

He sleeps with his shoes by his side, and a few blankets to keep him warm.

Gladden wakes up before sunrise, when he and the other homeless men and women here are kicked out, before the bustle of morning commute.

But as he collects his worldly possessions — which fit into a single bag — Gladden is actually getting ready for his own trek to work.

And his job is at the U.S. Capitol.

“I work for the most powerful people in the country and there I am sleeping at a subway stop,” Gladden told CNN, while standing in the shadow of the Capitol dome.

For 8 years he has worked in Senate cafeterias, washing dishes and doing janitorial work.

“I just sweep, clean the bathroom, that type of stuff,” he said.

He has no shower, so he uses the sink in the bathroom to give himself what he calls a “birdbath.”

“I’m working around food. I can’t go in there smelling, and I cant go in there dirty,” he said, pointing to the Capitol.

Gladden, 63, makes about $11 an hour, and takes home about $360 a week. But he said he gives a lot of it to his children and grandchildren, who have their own financial troubles.

“I take care of them,” he says, “I don’t want to be a burden on my kids.”

When asked about his colleagues who make the same salary, but can still afford housing, Gladden said he realizes that his predicament is exacerbated because he chooses to give money to his children. But it’s also because he suffers from diabetes, and his deteriorating health has meant missing work without pay, he said. He has even had three toes amputated because of his disease, which went untreated for a long time.

Almost no one at the Capitol had a clue Gladden was homeless, until he went public as part of a one-day strike by federal contractors demanding $15 dollars an hour, what they call a livable wage.

“If it happened to me it could happen to someone else,” he said.

“They scramble around for issues to talk about,” he said, motioning to the Senate chamber behind him.

“All they have to do is stop and ask the common person on the street … or in the building; the people bringing them their food, people sweeping and cleaning their toilet,” he said.

As he returned to work after protesting for higher wages, he said he has a message for the senators he serves every day.

“I’m an embarrassment. I don’t want to be an embarrassment to this country, the country I was born and raised in,” he said.