Since May of 2000, employees at Streetlight Youth Shelter have been clamoring for a mild increase in their wages. The workers, who say they are currently paid only $8.25 an hour for highly skilled and stressful work, have asked for a raise that will insure they won't slip into poverty themselves. But, in spite of director Dennis Morrow's salary--which Streetlight claims is at $130,000--Janus Youth Program, the nonprofit Portland organization that oversees Streetlight, has yet to part with a single penny in employee raises.

In fact, when ten employees occupied the Janus Youth Office in protest last week, Janus called the police and threatened to have workers thrown out.

"The wages they're offering us are just not living wages," said Paul Rowley, IWW labor union representative and employee at Streetlight Youth Shelter. Like many social workers, Rowley explained that the employees are simply trying to stay above the poverty line themselves. "The management uses this 'nurturing homeless kids' rhetoric, but the workers are in poverty situations themselves," Rowley explained.

Rowley, who regularly works overnight and ten-hour shifts at the shelter, also emphasized the difficult nature of the job and the need to have skilled workers who stay with the program for longer than a year. "I've been at Streetlight for three years," Rowley explained. "And now I'm quitting because I'm exhausted." Yet, instead of employing skilled workers, he maintains, Janus simply tries to maintain a docile, complacent work force. "I think they're actually pushing us to strike," he said. "So that they can just hire new, underpaid workers."

Rowley's goal, as well as that of the IWW, is to raise the wage to $10 an hour. Earlier in the year, workers made the collective decision not to strike. "We don't want to strike because we work with homeless kids," he explained, noting that those kids would suffer. Yet, even without striking, Rowley says they will continue to protest.

Andrew Altshchull, the lawyer representing Janus Youth, declined to comment, as did Dennis Morrow, the director of Janus Youth. Janus Youth is a nonprofit umbrella organization in Portland.

"Janus claims they're worker-friendly," said Rowley. "They're pretty full of shit."