Keeping Up with Thomas Pilgrim

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Smiling man walks down a sunny street with a trash can

Thomas Pilgrim was born on an army base in southeast Arizona, 15 miles from the Mexican border. Having military parents meant he was constantly packing and unpacking in new cities. Pilgrim doesn’t remember how many times he moved before he turned seven, but it was a lot. Finally, the family settled in Seattle.

It’s a few decades later now and he doesn’t change homes nearly as often, but Pilgrim is still on the move. Every day he crisscrosses downtown as a Safety Ambassador, touching base with downtown residents, directing tourists and reaching out to those in need with basic supplies, including hand warmers, ponchos and vitamin C.

“Good morning, good morning my friend,” Pilgrim says as he awakens a man sleeping on the sidewalk along his morning route. The conversations always start on a positive note with an offer of supplies.

“You have to know how to engage people,” Pilgrim says. “Showing personal interest in someone helps with their self-esteem.”

Pilgrim started on the Clean Team three years ago following a friend’s referral. He was with the Millionair Club Charity at the time, becoming one of the first Clean Team hires through Jobs Connect, a partnership between DSA, the Millionair Club, United Way of King County and the City of Seattle.

It didn’t take long for his hustle to catch the eye of supervisors. Pilgrim rose quickly from team member to team trainer, guiding new hires through the ins and outs of making downtown sparkle. Always on the lookout for new opportunities, he jumped when a position opened up on the Safety Team.

Things weren’t always so smooth. Pilgrim battled drug addiction for years and had the occasional interaction with law enforcement, but he’s six years sober now and going strong.

Pilgrim’s escape from addiction dovetails with his favorite part of the job: freedom of movement. On foot or on bike, he can go wherever he’s needed in downtown.

There are a few places where ambassadors like Pilgrim know they’re often needed. Underneath the Yesler Bridge near the Pioneer Square light rail station he pauses to log details of interactions with people sleeping outside.

“It helps that I’m a people person,” Pilgrim says, punching location and category data into his handheld Fulcrum machine. “I talk to at least 20 different people every day.”

Pilgrim has a plan, too. He’s made a lot of contacts responding to business managers and building owners downtown, and in the not-so-distant future he wants to leverage those connections to launch his own janitorial services company.

Until then, he says he’ll enjoy the ever-changing landscape and people of downtown Seattle.

“It’s a day-to-day adventure, guaranteed.”