Darren Coats spends more time at Portland State University than most students, but he takes no classes. Coats is one of the many janitors on campus. Coats actually prefers the title janitor.”Janitor is fine, custodial engineer is just a fancy name for janitor,” Coats said.
Coats joked if people want to pay him more, they can refer to him with the “fancy name”.
The janitorial services at PSU are contracted through a company called Portland Habilitation Center (PHC). Every janitorial employee at PHC must undergo a month of training.
PHC is a non-profit corporation. According to the Center’s Web site, “Our goal is to assist individuals with disabilities who traditionally have lacked work opportunities to develop the technical skills required to become a part of the workforce.”
PHC’s was started in 1951, and has been involved with janitorial services for twentry-five years now. PHC employs more than 700 people and is a Qualified Rehabilitation Facility. PHC is not affiliated with any social service agency and funding from government sources is less than four percent of its annual operating budget.
PHC employs people with physical, mental and emotional disabilities. When Coats was hired the company still considered substance abuse a disability. If an individual meets PHC’s employment standards, that individual will be given consideration of employment regardless the severity of his or her disability.
“I am no different than anyone else,” Coats said.
However, Coats is unlike everyone else, he has suffered three heart attacks and recently underwent quintupial bypass surgery and he is still working.
Before Coats came to work at PHC, and eventually at Portland State, he was living in a homeless shelter. This job has helped him turn his life around.
Coats likes his job because it is stress free and allows him to be independent.
“The best thing about my job is being around people and being at a nice big university. I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck and I can do my own thing,” Coats said.
Coats estimated that there are around forty to fifty janitors at PSU who either work the day, swing or graveyard shift. Coats works the swing shift, from 3:30 p.m. to midnight. Janitorial duties include picking up trash, moping, cleaning, the bathrooms and keeping everything in good shape.
Coats said he does not worry about his safety on campus, but he has had an incident with some people when he was walking home from work.
“Students are very polite, I have never had any problems,” Coats said.
Coats is just one of the many stories about the people who make Portland State University what it is.