Retired business owner Ted Pouliot, 80, serves the homeless

Retired businessman Ted Pouliot, 80, still works with homeless people more than 40 years after he helped found PPL.


Ted Pouliot works three days a week at Catholic Charities Opportunity Center in Minneapolis, where Sheila Otto is a manager.

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Ted Pouliot, an 80-year-old retired business owner and artist, volunteers three days weekly at the Catholic Charities Opportunity Center at Chicago Avenue S. and Interstate 94 in south Minneapolis.

Pouliot, the former owner of Pouliot Design of Shakopee and a veteran interior design and floral consultant, specializes in working with the homeless and connecting them with the services and opportunities they need to find shelter and self-sufficiency. Pouliot was a founder in 1972 with Joe Selvaggio and others of Project for Pride in Living (PPL), the nonprofit training-and-housing business.

Catholic Charities in the Twin Cities area serves about 35,000 people annually, including the homeless, needy families, immigrants and the elderly with food, shelter, educational and other support. Pouliot reports to Sheila Otto, a Catholic Charities manager more than 50 years his junior. The Opportunity Center is supported by Hennepin County, Piper Jaffray, U.S. Bancorp, RBC Foundation, Xcel Energy and includes volunteers from Ryan Cos., Stinson Leonard Street and Robins, Kaplan Miller & Ciresi. More information:

Q: Ted, why do you do this work in retirement?

A: I started working with the poor more than 40 years ago when I started PPL with Joe Selvaggio and others. We worked on rehabbing old houses with owners who could only afford to invest sweat equity. I also helped build more than 60 houses in Haiti, for under $3,000 apiece, through Sacred Heart Haiti foundation of Rochester, Minn. I had been active there for years, mostly raising money for grade schools. When I retired, I found I still had the energy to work with the poor. At Catholic Charities, almost every day I find some housing or training or services for somebody. It’s very rewarding. I hated to leave this summer for the lake and my painting. I’m showing art at a couple of galleries up there.

Q: Describe your volunteer job at Catholic Charities.

A: I started volunteering a few years ago. I sit with people over coffee and they seem to open up to me with their problems. I get a great deal of satisfaction if I can come up with solutions. Catholic Charities has a hard time finding enough volunteers because some of these folks are down-and-out homeless, who often have sordid histories. Alcoholism or jail. We all have some history. I do. There but for the grace of God go I. We are called to serve.

Q: Sheila, what does Ted do?

A: Ted is what we call a “system navigator” at the Opportunity Center. Ted goes above and beyond the call of duty by coming three times a week because he sees the value and benefit in consistency when attempting to build relationships with people in crisis situations. Ted’s strengths are listening to peoples’ needs and spending hours on his “days off” researching services that may be available to guests throughout the community. However, what is unique about Ted is that he takes things a step further by identifying … [and] attempting to break down and understand the inefficiencies within the systems that are preventing homeless individuals from gaining stability. I greatly appreciate and admire Ted’s relentless energy and persistence in helping guests move forward, overcome barriers and achieve their goals — work that is often extremely challenging and draining.

Q: Ted, you are known as a patient designer, but you’ve had your challenges in this housing work, right?

A: A few years ago, working with [since-retired] Herb Frey of Alliance Housing, we submitted our blueprint to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency for “micro-apartment” housing for single homeless people. They offered $50,000 per unit financing, but due to high land cost the cost came to about $80,000 and we couldn’t raise the balance for a project. It’s a huge need, particularly for single men.

I get these ideas, and I can’t quit trying to follow up on them. I’m working with Alliance Housing on that. I also work with Twin Cities RISE, now headed by Tom Streitz, who used to be the Minneapolis housing director. It was founded by Steve Rothschild, the retired General Mills executive. They focus a lot on individuals, training and work readiness. We’re still working on housing ideas.

Q: What is the greatest challenge for most single homeless people?

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