A detailed journey – From homeless to business owner

Local entrepreneur talks compassion, homelessness and car detailing

The worst part about being homeless for Jonathan Monson wasn’t the cold nights after a long day at work or having to shower at the local gym.

The worst part was the cruelty of his neighbors. The looks, the assumptions, the whispers.

Working full-time and living in his car, Monson tried to ignore what was said about him and worked toward stability. He earned too much at his job to receive housing but didn’t make enough to reach a down payment on a new apartment. But years of scrimping and saving, and help from a few friends placed Monson into a new home.

Monson is the owner of the business Dirty to Dreamy, where he professionally details cars for clients in King and Pierce counties. Monson started the business four years ago with his fiancée and finds most of his clients in Kent, Covington and Maple Valley.

Monson has told his story to a few people about what it was like being homeless in King County. Most of the story is spent with tears in his eyes. He sat down with the Covington Reporter to talk about what it was like working from nothing to having a home and his own successful business.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

How long have you owned Dirty to Dreamy?

I’ve been detailing for over five years. I started doing a part-time job, just kind of for extra money. The business itself has been open for three years.

What made you want to start this type of work?

Oh, I’ve been in the car industry for years. … It stems back from my family. My dad was a mechanic, and then we got into appraisals. We were sanding cars back when I was a kid.

The last job I was at I got fired because a couple of people had accidents when I wasn’t even at the store. As the manager, they put the burden on my shoulders and let me go. And I said, “You know what? I’m done making everybody else money. I’m going to start my own business.”

So I’m guessing you serve Pierce and King County?

A large majority of my business comes from Kent, Covington and Maple Valley.

Why do you think that is?

I get along with the people there better. I mean, if I’m being honest, (other cities) are a little stingy when it comes to homeless people and when it comes to helping others. Maple Valley is really big on helping others.

Can you tell me a little bit about your experience when you were homeless and your journey?

When I was homeless … it was completely unplanned. I actually was working at Jiffy Lube at the time. I left Jiffy Lube to start my own business, and everything was going great. Then (my) neighbor was evicted, and they sealed up her house because she had major pet problems. So (the landlord) basically tore the whole thing apart, and all the fumes and everything from the chemicals they were using came out from underneath the sink in my place.

It made me incredibly sick. And because I had my own business I didn’t have insurance, and so all my savings went into doctors’ visits trying to figure out what was going on. … I ended up homeless because I couldn’t afford my rent and everything.

I sued them and won, but technically I didn’t. … There were damages from the interior of my apartment because I moved so quickly and didn’t fix anything, and it kind of washed the money that they were going to give me.

So I ended up living in a 1979 Mazda RX7, I ended up in a Renton parking lot, working at the AutoZone. I was showering at the 24-Hour Fitness right across the street. … It wasn’t fun.

What was the hardest part about that?

People’s lack of compassion. You know, despite the fact I was a manager and training, and I was showering every day and I was taking care of myself, people still judged. Yeah, I had kids throw things in the car and call me a crackhead. I’ve never touched drugs in my life. I drank, that’s it. I never ever did drugs.

I tried every program I could possible to try to get into housing and to fix the issue, which was me not having a place to stay. And I made too much money. Because I had a job I couldn’t use any of the programs I pay into.

So you fell into a crack in the system. How did you find your way out?

I just kept working. Go to work every day and you put a smile on your face, and the future is what I focused on.

Honestly, it didn’t faze me as much as people think it did. My biggest issue was the fact that there was no compassion from other people.

It’s scary to share when you’re going through it because when you tell other people that you’re homeless you get judged. And the judgment is what people fear. So instead of sharing their story and potentially finding help, or finding some compassion somewhere, we keep it bottled up. And we share the bottle and we share the drugs and we share the alcohol.

I work with the homeless a lot now because I was there. And that’s why they turn to the drugs because they’re bottling up so much. I don’t want to call it hatred, but there’s definitely bitterness towards people.

It all seems very unfair.

It’s not. And I didn’t ask to be homeless. I was making $60,000 a year before I was homeless. And then all of a sudden, boom, homeless.

So what kind of work are you doing to support people experiencing homelessness?

We started a thing called Operation Mission Detail. If you follow the hashtag operation mission detail, it’s now nationwide, and it’s basically just … when you can help as a detailer, you help. And it’s for homeless, it’s for veterans, it’s for people with cancer … to demonstrate compassion is something we need in our society and we don’t have enough of it. It’s the little stuff. … I can raise a million dollars for cancer, and it means nothing. But when I sit down with somebody who has cancer and I say, “What can I do? How can I help you? And I don’t mean money-wise. Can I take you to the store? Can I cook you dinner?” That’s what matters.

Growing up I was a street preacher. I grew up in New York. My parents were Baptists. So we did “soul-winning,” that’s what we call it. OK, but it’s soul-winning on Thursdays. We went street preaching on Friday. Saturday we did outreach and we fed the homeless people in need.

I got away from that as I grew older, chasing stability, chasing the foundation and the need to create a solid life for myself. And then I became homeless, so I was like “you know what I need to just get back to helping others.” That’s where we found our ground, our framework for our company.

You keep referring to a “we,” who do you mean?

Me and my fiancée (Andrew Norris).

When did you meet Andrew?

Almost five years ago now. Homelessness was nine years ago. I started the company with Andrew.

So what’s the day-to-day look like at Dirty to Dreamy?

It changes from day-to-day. We spend anywhere from six to 12 hours on a car.

So we’ll get one or two cars to drop off here. We work from home and I also work a classic collection. It’s about five minutes away.

It’s pretty much wakeup detail. I get done with the day … at about three or four o’clock usually, and then I spend the rest of my day marketing and following up emails, sales, that kind of stuff. So a full day is like 15 hours’ worth of work.

We started with nothing. All we had was some time. And then it became this monster out of nowhere, and that all started because of who we are.

We found a wedding ring in the car. And the way I am with all of my shops that I’ve ever run is, we find something valuable we immediately report it to the customer. So that’s what we did. And she was so blown away. She had mentioned that she was avoiding telling her husband that she’d lost it. And she was so excited that she found it and she blew us up all over Facebook. Oh, my god. It was great. And from there on, it was just like connection, connection, connection, connection because we met people through being kind.

You talked about how it was hard to find compassion when you were homeless, and now as a businessman, you are finding it everywhere. Do you ever wonder what these people would say if you were still homeless and trying to detail their cars? Do you ever have that conversation with someone?

This is not something that I bring up on a business transaction, but when I get to know people better I tell them who I am.

When I was 15 years old my face was crushed, the one side of my face is all titanium. I was jumped. It was gang violence. I was punched with a lead line glove. And my whole world changed. People judged. I didn’t have a normal childhood. A lot of my face looked funny like, so I don’t know if that was necessarily preparing me for how my life was going to go, but it definitely set me up to succeed when I was homeless.

After starting my own business I decided I’m going to use that story to motivate other people like me. Those that are looking for the guy that’s compassionate, those who are looking for somebody that listens, and tell them this isn’t the end.

More about Dirty to Dreamy

Dirty to Dreamy is located in Bonney Lake but services anywhere in Pierce and King County. Some services include a car pickup, Monson said.

Monson and Norris like to work with each client to not only detail the car but help place any add-ons that would make the car unique and special for the client’s day-to-day life, such as special cup holders and stain treatments.

Monson also created a workbook for any interested detailers to help create a streamlined and easy detailing process. He hopes to hire an employee or two in the next year to increase the number of clients he can bring in. He is actively working with local homeless shelters to possibly employ someone experiencing homelessness. Dirty to Dreamy also works to give to multiple shelters and food banks in Kent, Covington and Maple Valley.

To learn more about Dirty to Dreamy, visit thedreamyway.com.

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