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Social Worker Loses Job, Alleges He was Helping the Homeless

September 12, 2019 02:33 PM

(ABC 6 News)-- What would you risk to do what you felt was the right thing?

For the first time on camera, a former Social Worker for the Rochester Salvation Army is opening up about how he lost his job.

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“It was kind of an unexpected thing that was fortuitous I would say,” said Alex Hurlebaus.

Hurlebaus, a veteran, was employed at the Salvation Army for five years. He says working with the homeless was more than just a job, it became his purpose in life.

Then, just over a month ago, his life was turned upside down.

“There was an incident with a family and I felt there were steps that needed to be taken to help this family,” said Hurlebaus.

The family was staying at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Rochester. According to Hurlebaus, the family had secured affordable housing but couldn’t get in for a week and their 14 days were up at the shelter.

“[The] dad struggled with some mobility issues, he received disability because he had mobility issues and this family had three children under the age of six,” he said. “I struggle with staying neutral and not being overly invested when kids are involved because every time I look at the child I just see my own little boy's face.”

So Hurlebaus made a Facebook post.

“[I asked] If people felt compelled that they would reach out and say 'Hey would you be willing to extend this family's stay? Would you be willing to put them up just a little bit longer?',” he said. “I let that agency know that I would be willing to do hotel nights from there on until that family reached their paycheck which would have been three more nights.”

The post, which included direct contact information for a Dorothy Day Hospitality House board member, was up for about an hour. It was long enough to catch the attention of not just Hurlebaus’ Facebook friends.

“I got a call from my supervisor, not a happy call,” he said. “I had my supervisor and her supervisor come into my office and let me know I was going to be suspended pending an investigation to see if I should continue to be employed.”

About a week later, Hurlebaus says he was let go. He believes the post angered one or more of the Dorothy Day Hospitality House board members and that it triggered more than just emotion.

“We have two Majors here at the Salvation Army in Rochester,” said Hurlebaus. “I think they had reached out and not gotten satisfaction as far as a firing. Then I was made aware they took it to the next level which would have been regional headquarters (out of the Cities). I don't know if they were given clear satisfaction there as well. The individual that finally let me know what I had been fired for was out of divisional headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.”

ABC 6 News reached out to the Dorothy Day Hospitality House and received the statement:

“While we cannot comment on another organization's personnel decisions, the Dorothy Day Hospitality House is committed to collaborating with the Salvation Army and other organizations to serve the homeless community in Rochester.

Our volunteer-led House remains dedicated to serving all within our community who find themselves in need, providing each guest with shelter, dignity, self-respect, and positivity in accordance with our mission.”

ABC 6 News also reached out to the Rochester Salvation Army a few times. We have not heard back yet.

Hurlebaus says he doesn’t regret his decision.

“In the end, the family actually was able to get that extension that they needed, was able to stay in that housing and was able to get permanent housing,” he said. “I was also told the father was able to get some kind of medical assistance where in now he has a prosthetic legs.”

He now is now a social worker for The Landing, MN, a new nonprofit born from a similar situation.

Dan Fifield was an ER Nurse last year when a family came in seeking treatment for their daughter.

“I found out they were a homeless family of five living in a small car with a dog and a cat,” said Fifield. “The 4-year-old had kicked her boots off that night while sleeping in the car and it was the first cold snap where it was below zero.”

Fifield says he made some calls to get them into housing and was reprimanded.

“Subsequently, I had been suspended for a couple of shifts and that weekend my wife and I; through a lot of discussions and everything, decided that we were going to take a very large leap of faith and open the Landing,” said Fifield.

The Fifield’s, working to address the needs of the growing homeless population in a city, jumped at the chance to bring a Hurlebaus in as a paid employee.

As for Hurlebaus, he says he harbors no resentment towards the Dorothy Day Hospitality House or the Rochester Salvation Army.

“I’m as eager as ever to work with any agency that wants to work with us to help people who are struggling with homelessness,” said Hurlebaus. “Anything that has happened to be personally is never going to come in between helping those families.”

Credits

Hannah Tiede

Copyright 2019 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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