Imagine living in a homeless shelter for more than 20 years.
Combined, Jimmy Gaston and Joe Chastian have lived at Hospitality Heights for about 47 years.
Most of that time has been spent working together, serving on projects as big as building the current Hospitality Heights building to activities as seemingly small as welcoming guests into their home.
Gaston is the shorter of the pair, wearing large-framed glasses, and speaks with a gentle, easygoing voice. He first came to live at the shelter because of a family emergency.
“My dad had had a stroke. And I’ve been helping my step-mom take care of my dad,” he said. After helping his father and stepmom as best as he could with the situation, he decided to come down to the old Hospitality House building.
“What happened was when I came to the house and I talked to the house manager, he told me all about the house and asked me if I had a driver’s license,” he said. “So I took that job over and I did it for 18 years.”
Chastian came to live at the shelter shortly after Gaston arrived. Although Chastian had $15,000 saved up, he blew it all. Partying and alcohol, among other things, took their toll on him. He then decided to make a change.
“I gave these ladies 100 dollars so they would come about with their Volkswagen bus and I said ‘I want to go to Wenatchee.” he said.
Chastian is tall and also wears glasses, but unlike Gaston, Chastian speaks with a loud, 1930s era-like voice. He could be at home on a radio program.
The pair’s early years at the shelter weren’t their best. Many homeless men were living in the old Hospitality Heights building, which previously served as an old railroad hotel.
“It was rat-infested. It was ready to fall down,” Chastian said. “It was really small. And people were sleeping under the floors under the dining room table,” Gaston added.
Additionally, the public’s perception at that time of homeless individuals was not good at all. “If you were homeless you were automatically a problem,” Gaston said.
In 1990, construction for the current Hospitality Heights building started. Everyone living at the shelter was on board to help.
“This place was built by homeless people. It wasn’t build by a contractor or anything like that. Homeless people built it from the ground up,” Gaston said.
Despite the hard work involved, the pair wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“We serve and help homeless people and that’s what we love to do,” Gaston said.
Jeric Quiliza spent the past year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Eastmont School District. He writes about homeless issues and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org