For eight years, Charles Gladden has shared an office with some of the most influential people in the nation.
As a janitor at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Gladden, 63, works among senators, staffers and lobbyists, as he sweeps floors, washes dishes and cleans bathrooms for $11 an hour. He makes about $360 a week, he tells CNN.
When he clocks out at the end of the day, Gladden heads to the nearby subway station he calls home.
“I work for the most powerful people in the country, and there I am sleeping at a subway stop,” he says.
Gladden leaves his makeshift bed before sunrise, when he and the other homeless men and women are forced to decamp from the sidewalk next to Washington, D.C.’s McPherson Square Metro Station.
When he arrives at the Capitol, he takes what he calls a “birdbath” in the sink in the bathroom.
“I’m working around food. I can’t go in there smelling, and I can’t go in there dirty,” he explains.
Most people at the Capitol had no idea Gladden was homeless. He decided to speak out about his circumstances as part of a one-day strike by federal contractors who want to be paid a living wage of $15 an hour.
Gladden acknowledges his financial situation is complicated. His colleagues who make the same salary can afford housing. A big reason he’s living on the streets is because he gives a lot of his money to his children and grandchildren, who are also struggling financially.
“I take care of them,” he tells CNN. “I don’t want to be a burden on my kids.”
Gladden also suffers from diabetes, which has caused him to miss work without pay.
Though he knows his case is uncommon, he feels it still illustrates the problems low-wage workers face every day in our country, he tells the Washington Post.
“Our lawmakers, they don’t even realize what’s going on right beneath their feet,” he says. “They don’t have a clue.”
“They scramble around for issues to talk about,” he tells CNN. “All they have to do is stop and ask the common person on the street … or in the building; the people bringing them their food, people sweeping and cleaning their toilet.”
“If it happened to me it could happen to someone else,” he adds.