WASHINGTON (CNN) — Nathan Morris made millions as part of the group Boyz II Men, but he still remembers what it was like to struggle when he was growing up.
“We went through spots,” Morris recalls, “where we had no water, no electric, no gas.”
So when he saw CNN’s profile of Charles Gladden — a homeless man who serves senators by day in the Capitol cafeteria but sleeps on the streets at night — it struck a deep nerve.
“A friend of mine sent me a link to it. I saw it on my phone, probably about 3, 4 in the morning. And it just bothered me. It bothered me that someone in Charles’s situation would have to deal with something like this,” he said. “In the greatest country in the world, working in the one of the greatest buildings on the planet, that the people that he works for, who make all the decisions, (who) pass the bills and the laws and things that can help him, have not helped him,” Morris said.
So he acted, starting a crowdfunding site to raise money for Gladden. He said if he could raise $10,000 online, he would kick in another $10,000, which he called a start.
Then, Morris got in his car and drove down to D.C. from his hometown of Philadelphia so he could meet Gladden.
When Gladden walked across the Capitol plaza and saw Morris waiting for him, the first thing the homeless 63-year-old man did was congratulate the singer for all of his success.
“I appreciate you sir. You have no idea man,” Morris told Gladden as they embraced.
“It killed me to hear your story. I had to come up here, I had to meet you and I had to pull all my resources in to try to help take care of you, man,” Morris added.
He took out his phone to show Gladden how much people had already donated.
By then, the funding effort was only three days old, but had already raised more than $21,000.
“Just from small donations — $20, $35, $10, $15 — and this is just people giving from the kindness of their heart,” Morris said, pointing to the website on his phone.
“That’s a good thing,” responded a near-speechless Gladden. The Boyz II Men singer said his first priority is getting Gladden off the street.
“Try to get him back on his feet. You know, try to take some of the burden off him having to worry about where he’s going to sleep at night,” explained Morris.
When Gladden first told us about his story, CNN asked why he didn’t go to a homeless shelter instead of sleeping at a D.C. metro stop each night.
He told CNN shelters are like a “prison,” and unsafe. Gladden, a diabetic, said his insulin had been stolen in homeless shelters by people hoping to use it to get high.
But Morris told Gladden about a halfway house of sorts he found, run by the Coalition for the Homeless, geared for men just like Gladden — people who have jobs but have trouble saving enough money to get a place to live.
Morris says the facility requires those who come to save 30% of their income while they stay there. He said he hoped to use the funds raised to help Gladden to pay that 30%.
Senate restaurant workers demand higher pay
But that won’t solve the bigger problem. Gladden’s base salary is about $11 an hour, and he takes home only $360 dollars a week. Some of his colleagues in the Senate cafeteria make the minimum wage for federal contractors, $10.10 per hour, and they want at least $15 an hour, what they call a livable wage.
The Senate privatized its dining services in 2008, and awarded the contract to Restaurant Associates, a British-owned company based in New York that serves many well-known institutions, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Kennedy Center in D.C.
The contract is up at the end of the year, and CNN is told by sources familiar with the talks that Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt, whose committee is responsible for the contract, is already in negotiations to re-up with Restaurant Associates.
After seeing CNN’s story about Gladden, however, top Democrats, like Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, began to pressure Blunt to call on Restaurant Associates to increase cafeteria workers’ minimum wage to $15 an hour.
And Gladden — once reluctant to talk about being homeless — is now eager to share his story, hoping it helps colleagues in less dire circumstances but still in need of higher wages.
“We got a lot of workers in there that have a problem, like losing their homes and can’t keep up their mortgage because they’re not making enough money,” Gladden said.
“There’s no reason why you should feel like you’re a disgrace to this country,” Morris told Gladden. “The people in there making the laws are the disgrace.”
Baltimore riots shine light on poverty
With unrest occurring in nearby Baltimore, the realities and consequences of poverty and desperation in cities across the country are making headlines.
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison told CNN’s “New Day” Thursday that he hopes people look beyond the mayhem in Baltimore and at the human stories, and made a point of noting “we got a guy here, working for the United States Senate,” who is homeless.
Gladden says he was heading down the wrong road from a young age, in large part because he didn’t have anyone to steer him in the right direction. He has a lot of talent he never fulfilled. He won an art contest that got him a scholarship to George Washington University, but he dropped out.
“I didn’t make all the good decisions. My choices weren’t up to par, basically because I didn’t have nobody near,” said Gladden.
Like his new Boyz II Men friend, it turns out Gladden also sings. He says he performed in a group with friends in his D.C. neighborhood back in the day, and he sang a few bars of an oldie for Morris.
“I love you, I love you so madly, without you, I can’t go on,” Gladden crooned.
Morris gave Gladden another hug. “We might have to get us another member,” he joked.