Orange Mound

How this nonprofit is hoping to eradicate homelessness one shoe at a time

Earlier this year, the JUICE Orange Mound homeless shelter was shut down by the City of Memphis due to zoning issues, and the unhoused people sheltering there were forced back onto city streets. But even in the face of such setbacks, the JUICE Orange Mound nonprofit presses on in its fight to provide options for the unhoused peoples of its neighborhood. A unique partnership with SoGiv, the Memphis-based shoe design nonprofit, should help them do just that.

On Sunday, Aug. 7, the two organizations celebrated the launch of their Orange Mound Awareness Shoe, the proceeds from the sale of which will help JUICE to “eradicate homelessness one shoe at a time.” High Ground News contributor Reginald Johnson attended the event, capturing the moment and speaking with JUICE founder and executive director — and newly elected County Commissioner — Britney Thornton. She tells Reginald the story behind the shoe and the motivation therein.

Click HERE for more photos from the event and Reginald’s conversation with SoGiv founder and shoe designer Edward Bogard.

High Ground News: How did this partnership with SoGiv come about? What does this mean to you, your organization, and the community of Orange Mound, most of all?

The Orange Mound Awareness Shoe from SoGiv and JUICE Orange Mound. (Photo: Reginald Johnson)Britney Thornton: This partnership is as organic as they come. Ed (SoGiv founder Edward Bogard) found us and had a thoughtful design already created. So he pitched it and we just loved it. It was just really good timing because we were coming out of a really robust project ourselves, and just trying to figure out what's next. So, I think that the shoe offered itself as a revival of energy around something that we had spent so much time on; 11 months and 13 days of our shelter, of deep engagement with the homeless community in Orange Mound. 

[Related: Read A workshop and a plan for resident-led revival in Orange Mound” on High Ground News.]

HGN: So, talk a little about the importance of this collaboration and partnership as it relates to homelessness. 

Britney: Today we got to actually hear from Mike Brown, someone that actually lived in the shelter. I lived with Mike Brown during the time that we operated the shelter. I moved out of my house to operate the shelter. I don't think that people really realize that I actually lived in the shelter. We only had one staff person and that was me. So, if we are going to operate a shelter, it's going to have to be me. 

Britney Thornton with Mike Brown. (Photo: Reginald Johnson)

It was really cool to see a full-circle moment where we do the work that we're doing and connect people to resources. Mike Brown has gone through our clinic. I've seen him at some of his lows and withdrawals, really struggling with his addictions that he has suffered with for a very long time — which he will tell you himself. So, it's cool to be with people and to see the power of relationships and the power of helping people re-engage their families. Because of his addiction, he had a tattered relationship with his family but now he's living with his mom and being supported by his family. 

He called me the other today and said I need to talk to you. I was like, Are you okay? And he said, “My son is coming, and I don't know what to say.” And so, for us to have that type of relationship where he feels like he could pick up the phone and call me — it's more than a shelter. It's more than an effort to provide food for the homelessness. These are real relationships that we have formed and that we want to continue to cultivate.

On our website you'll see the faces of people that, right now, are living outside of our building on the streets. And so we're super excited to be able to position ourselves to re-engage that community and just pick up where we left off. Success stories like Mike are going to be so much more compelling for people on the streets; I think that they don't see enough success stories. So, to have Mike come back and be willing to say, I really want to serve. I want to volunteer my time to help other people. To know that they can do it, that's awesome. And so, we just want to be in a position to do more of that. 

“This is the rebirth of a lot of energy that we hope to capitalize on in the future,” Thornton says. (Photo: Reginald Johnson)HGN: Can we talk a little bit about something you just said about Mike Brown calling? With all the things that our youth must face today — and especially our boys, who a lot of times feel ostracized and alienated from the world around them, and maybe there is no father figure to see or have a relationship with — how pivotal was that moment to you when Mike called you and said my son wants to see me? 

Britney: So, when you're living on the streets, you really isolate yourself. A lot of people have really big families that they are connected to, but the relationships are just tattered. They are ravaged because of their addictions. People were just tired of them stealing, lying, and tired of them saying they are going to do one thing and do another. So, they create communities among themselves because they really have just been rejected. To see a story like Mike, where his mom has been chasing him, trying to get him off the streets, but he would say, “I just want to do my own thing.”

And so it was a decision that he just never wanted to walk into. But because of constant conversations with him, and me saying, “What are you going to do? You know you have this option.” I could not count on my fingers how many times Mike and I had a conversation that we're literally walking through opportunities that he could have and why it’s a good decision for him. We do this coaching thing a lot. So, to see him actually take the offering from his mom to go home and to get cleaned up and to just be stable, to be in a loving environment and receive the love that he has, has been great.

It's opened him up to relationships with his children. His son is 19 years old. He's been absent and his son is just a stranger to him. So, his son decided to come to Memphis; he lives out of town. I wasn't expecting Mike to call me — and if you know Mike, he is a talker and he is so personable, but he really isn’t one to ask for money. He's more like the emotional support-type. I can remember it just like yesterday; he called and said, “I don’t know what to say to my son.” It was just so childlike, his excitement, and it was cool to see that he felt like he could call me and that he knew that there was emotional support that he could expect. 

Posing for photos at the Orange Mound Awareness Shoe launch party. (Photo: Reginald Johnson)

We want to regain access to that lifeline. The shelter’s doors are closed for now. But I think it's really cool just to see how that community is still organically staying around the building. Even though it's been closed for a few months now, that community is tied to that physical space as their space. So we are excited to come up with a more thoughtful offering, and we are excited to move forward. 

So this is the rebirth of a lot of energy that we hope to capitalize on in the future. So, people should support it. It's more than a shoe. That's the hashtag that we're using. It's definitely more than a shoe. It's a movement.

The SoGiv Orange Mound Awareness Shoe is available online at www.orangemoundshoe.com.