Keith Ashman

In a world where cell phones are regarded as “lifelines,” imagine what it might be like for a homeless person, who struggles to afford a wireless plan.

Now, imagine if that homeless person is also a cancer survivor, and needs a phone to stay connected to his doctors.

This is Keith Ashman’s reality.

Currently in remission, Keith says his participation in Jericho’s CleanStart job-readiness program has provided him with “just enough support to be able to pay for things like my cell phone, which allows me to stay in touch with my doctors.”

CleanStart, part of Jericho’s CityServe initiative, gives Danbury’s homeless men and women the opportunity to earn compensation for completing city-directed projects and jobs around the city. Participants clean city streets and the municipal parking garage, paint city property such as fire hydrants, and clear brush at Tarrywile Park. They work two four-hour shifts a week, under the supervision of Jericho volunteers who serve as Team Leaders and job coaches. When they finish a week-long shift, they earn a gift card. Participants also receive guidance from WorkNet, which helps them prepare for interviews and eventual employment.

Keith, 36, has been homeless, on and off, since 2009, when he was released from a two-plus- year stint in prison. Since December, when he arrived in Danbury, he’s been spending time at Jericho’s homeless shelter and attending AA meetings. He says the shelter’s strict rules, its small size, and structure has enabled him to focus on moving on to better things, including his participation in CleanStart.

“Any hours I'm working, I'm not on the streets, and that allows me to stay focused on what I want and need to stay clean and out of prison. I’ve started going to AA meetings just to meet other people who actually want things in life and are looking to improve themselves,” Keith said. “Nobody’s telling me to go, but I want to do whatever it takes to move forward.”

He is hopeful for his future: “After I’m housed and begin receiving disability, I hope to get a part-time job or volunteer to stay busy.”