“I never wanted nothin’ to do with God,” says Donald, a 60-year-old guest at Union Rescue Mission. “Growing up in South Central, my parents made me go to church, whether I wanted to go or not. But away from church, my stepdad would beat me with whatever he could get his hands on. I kept thinking, if God’s so loving, why do I got all these welts on my back?”
So Donald rebelled — stealing, “drugging,” and determined to do whatever he wanted to do, no matter who got hurt. And people did get hurt. When he was 19, he and some friends tried to “jack a dope house.” When a young girl startled him, he shot and killed her before he knew what was happening. He went to prison for almost 10 years.
Hopeless on Skid Row
“After I got out,” Donald recalls, “I went right back to dope and drinking. I robbed homes and even churches to support my drug habit. I was in and out of prison for the next 30 years.”
When he wasn’t in prison, he called an alley near Skid Row home. “You don’t want to know what life is like out there,” he says. “Skid Row is where you go when you got no more hope. This is where folks come when they give up. Then these streets put you in the grave. People get killed all the time here. Just yesterday, I saw a dude get stabbed four times in the chest.
“Now that I’m sober, it hurts seeing all this stuff. Man, there’s gotta be a better life.”
“I Can’t Do This Anymore”
Donald finally decided to pursue that “better life” in April 2015. “I was straight-out tired,” he explains. “My cousin invited me to go to Union Rescue Mission. When I got here, I told God, ‘I can’t do this anymore. Help me.’ It was God’s way or no way.”
The change was drastic. “All the fighting, cussing, and stealing, I gave it up and let God do what He does. He died for me. He forgave me. I felt like the whole world lifted off me.”
Today, Donald works in URM’s hygiene area, where people come off the streets to take a shower and get cleaned up. “It feels good to help people who are just like I was,” he says. “But it’s not easy. One guy spit in my face. There was a time I would have killed him. And I wanted to. But I looked him in the eye and I said, ‘God loves you, man.’”
Summer heat, rising crime, and hopelessness are creating unimaginable suffering for men and women experiencing homelessness on Skid Row. They desperately need help. But every summer, much-needed donations to Union Rescue Mission drop way off, threatening our ability to meet their needs.
Lives Change Here Because of YOU!
by L.A.P.D. Officer Deon Joseph
A few years ago as I was patrolling Skid Row, I found a man rummaging through a trash can. His skin was covered with scabies, and his hair was matted and filled with lice. He was wanted, and when I arrested him, he cursed me and called me every horrible name imaginable.
As a police officer, I wasn’t supposed to do this: I gave him a poem called “You Are Not a Failure” and another one called “A Supernatural Life.” I later learned that, after he left jail, he got into a program like Union Rescue Mission’s and completely transformed his life. Today, he’s got a successful career and family.
The Inhumanity of Skid Row
I didn’t always believe that lives could change on Skid Row. And when you look at these streets today, it’s still hard to be optimistic. Skid Row is now the largest homeless encampment in America. Gangsters, loan sharks, hustlers, and predators prey on the people here, especially women, who now make up almost 45% of the population. In some parts of Skid Row, rapes have increased almost 200%. But everyone’s life is in danger. Aggravated assaults and street robberies are rapidly increasing. Life is worse than I’ve ever seen here — it’s tragic and inhumane to let it continue.
You Really Do Make a Difference
That’s why I’m so grateful for places like Union Rescue Mission and people like you who support them. As I said, I once didn’t believe that lives could change. But the first time I toured Union Rescue Mission, I saw dozens of people I had arrested, now clean, sober, filled with new life, and completely transformed. I determined that day I would do everything I can to support places like Union Rescue Mission, and to encourage everyone in Los Angeles to support them, too.
Not everyone’s life will change here. But many will. We just can’t give up. As people of faith, who believe in a caring God, we must keep trying. I never want to see another rape victim in a tent or dead man on the sidewalk. With your support of Union Rescue Mission, maybe I won’t have to.
Jack’s Story, 1941
Jack was young and attractive, with a successful career and loving wife — until he lost it all because of alcohol. Ashamed, he left home, leaving his wife a note that simply said he would return when he straightened up.
“Desperate, I wandered into Union Rescue Mission one night,” he recalls. “That evening, I heard a man testify how the grace of God, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, had transformed his life and restored his courage, hope, and self-respect. He said that if I repented, I could experience the same thing.
“That was my first ray of hope. I went forward to the altar, asked for God’s forgiveness and for His help to throw off the curse of drink and to send me back to my wife.”
God honored Jack’s prayer. In time, with newfound courage and self-respect, Jack returned to his former job, earned the respect of his employers, and went back home to his wife, who marveled at the change she saw in him.
Lives Change When We Work Together
The number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles today is overwhelming. The latest study says almost 47,000 men, women, and children have no home — though I believe it’s far higher. The number of single women on the streets has increased 55%, and family homelessness is exploding, with thousands of them living in tents, cars, and RVs.
Yet despite the increase, thousands of shelter beds have disappeared in Los Angeles over the past few years. So now, Union Rescue Mission is sheltering a record number of 1,050 people a night — and for the first time in our history, more than half of them are women and children. But we are still determined to never turn a woman or a family away.
In the face of so much tragedy, it would be easy to get discouraged. But I’m not. And neither should you be. Why? People like Donald whose story began this newsletter. You helped transform his life. We see similar stories repeated every day. Thousands of people experiencing homelessness have new life today because of the faithfulness of folks like you. When you and I both do our parts, lives change. Thanks be to God.