Between a Rock and a Soft Place

Between a Rock and a Soft Place 4

When I give a tour of Union Rescue Mission, it always includes a tour of our hall of incredible history.

Between a Rock and a Soft Place 2I quickly take people to an article about how, in 1934, Union Rescue Mission faithfully stepped up to feed 42% of all free meals provided by charities. In that year of the Great Depression, Los Angeles had a population of 1.2 Million people and we served 134,000 meals.

I share all this to give people context for how we stepped up again in 2010, during what we now refer to as The Great Recession. In 2010, Los Angeles had grown to 3.6 million people, 3 times that of 1934. That same year, URM fed 1.4 Million meals, 10 times that of 1934.

Along with these stats, I share we only housed men in 1934, but in 2010 we housed single women and 450 families! We accomplished all of this, including a 48% increase in guests under our roof, despite donations dropping 21% from pre-recession levels. It was our most challenging year ever, until this year.

This year, the number of guests taking refuge at URM are up 55% and giving is down by more than 22%.

Women and children outnumber men by a wide margin, with over 750 women and children compared to 550 men.

We have provided shelter to 970 families so far with two months to go! This is more than double the level in 2010!

Donations are currently $2.6 Million below our budgeted amounts, with only two months left in our fiscal year. This deficit will continue to increase if we don’t receive some hoped for generous gifts and grants by June 30th. If we are not able to cover these deficits, our ability to meet the many needs we see will be greatly reduced. We will not be able to continue our policy of never turning away a woman or a family with children. We will have to leave them on the streets to suffer unbearable consequences – but our hearts won’t let us leave them out there. My heart won’t let me.
Much of our ‘stepping up’ began two years ago when I was out on our water walk. Any time it reaches 85 degrees or higher we take 2,000 bottles of cold water to the 2,000 thirsty precious souls on Skid Row.

Between a Rock and a Soft Place 1On this life-changing walk two years ago, I found a frail, desperate older woman on the sidewalk behind our Mission. I asked what she was doing. “I am waiting to see if I can get a bed.” I looked in her eyes, felt the heat of the sun and the sidewalk, and considered what would happen to a woman on the streets of Skid Row that night.

90% of women on the streets report being sexually assaulted while experiencing homelessness. I have to admit, I am personally haunted by this reality. “Please come with me, we will make room for you, even if it is a cot.” We already had a policy of never turning a family away.

Since that day, our policy was expanded and we have never turned away a single woman.

That is why this April 1st, when 7 of 8 city and county sponsored winter shelters closed, our number of people on cots grew to an all-time high of 300 and the number of single women at URM reached an all-time high of 468.

We are between a Rock (our budget & Revenue), and a soft place (our hearts of compassion).

With you, this year, we’ve done the impossible. We’ve served 55% more guests, including record numbers of women & children, but our giving overall has declined.

The Mission - December 2016 1We plan to continue ‘stepping up,’ in fact, we plan to do more! We are going to blow a hole in the wall to our back parking lot and set up a structure with restrooms and showers in order to make space for more single women in need. To do this, we are going to need another miracle!

With your sacrificial gift, through your generosity at this critical time in our history, you can save lives. We need to raise a seemingly impossible $6 Million these last 60 days of the fiscal year ending June 30th.

Please consider what you can do to help URM serve so many people in need. Your gift will enable us, together, to make sure not one precious woman or child will be turned back to the streets of Skid Row.

Hope Gardens 4

Between a Rock and a Soft Place 5

Union Rescue Mission needs you to finish 2015 well!!

We are about to enter into our 125th year of serving people experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

This year will be a very special one, as we are moving ahead in adding 13 units at Hope Gardens to assist 13 more moms & their children in overcoming homelessness. These 13 units will serve a special role as they will be a safety net for children of moms’ who may take a bit longer or may not ever overcome the obstacles keeping them without a home of their own.

Other plans for Hope Gardens include paying off the $3.6 million dollar mortgage, making the elevators operational in all buildings & we may build small homes on vacant land & more units for our Senior Ladies.

At Union Rescue Mission we are ready to retrofit all 3 elevators & make other needed capital improvements.

Next year’s plans also call for a URM satellite out of Skid Row as we continue our strategic plan to multiply hope, regionalize services, & bring an end to the tragedy that is Skid Row.

We are off to a good start on all of these new plans but none can proceed without a good finish to 2015.

This good finish is complicated by El Niño & the now cold weather that has come early & the expected cold & wet storms predicted in our near future.

We’ve added 140 cots downtown & these cots have been utilized for 223 days in a row.  With the worst of the storms on the way, we may need to add 250 more cots or even find a satellite location now rather than later to get everyone out of harms way. These are added costs not planned in our budget & that is why we need your help.

We need to not only meet our budget of $3.7 million in December alone, but we need to surpass the budget to keep up with the added costs of serving our precious guests in our cold & wet weather cots. Welcoming them at this critical moment could quite possibly put them on the path home to a transformed life.

Take a moment to give a life saving life changing gift of any amount at urm.org by December 31st to help URM finish 2015 strong & roll into 2016 with great momentum.

Every gift given by midnight December 31st will be matched/doubled.

Thank you, Andy B

Why I still believe in Rescue

11RESCUE those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

12If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?

Proverbs 24:11-12

Some Missions are dropping the word Rescue from their title. A marketing executive recently suggested that Union Rescue Mission consider the same. He felt the term painted a picture of an old school mission providing only 3 hots and a cot along with a Gospel message. A former associate viewed the term as paternalistic and archaic, but I dare to disagree.

Union Rescue Mission will keep the important word Rescue in our name. No mission has proven to be more innovative, guest affirming and non paternalistic over the years than URM.

Over 29 years ago I joined a mission in Des Moines, Iowa and one of the first things I did was to make the chapel voluntary after the meal rather than compulsory before the meal. Attendance not only held steady but those in attendance were no longer physically hungry and had an increased appetite for spiritual food. History shows that happening at about the same time at URM in LA.

URM refers to all who live here as guests.

URM invites guests to reside at the mission 24/7/365-to be in guest area, or rest in their bunks-no coming in at night, leaving after breakfast and wandering the streets all day.

Guests keep their bed until they find a more permanent home-no 30 or 60 day revolving door. In fact, we are on pace to have 824 guests move into permanent housing this year. This number does not include our recovery programs, which would put the number closer to 1000.

We affirm our guests dignity by inviting them to stay free for 15 days then choose recovery or join Gateway program and pay a part of their own way, set up a personal savings plan, keep their valuables in a locked storage area under their bunks, volunteer throughout URM, maintain sobriety and participate in our clinics and jobs program. We have great respect and high expectations of our guests.

Our hope for everyone is a life transformed, followed by a job, followed by a permanent home. That is the focus of our intense recovery programs. However, we’ve set up sober permanent housing options for single men and women and soon families just in case a return to a job and complete independence is not possible.

URM is Christ and guest centered; each day we strive to listen to Our Lord and our guests and to do even better.

I know Rescue sounds like there is one rescuer and one to be rescued, which may sound paternalistic and there is a need for humility on the part of the rescued.

But humility isn’t a bad thing. It may save your life.

Awhile back, I was body boarding at Newport Beach in big waves. I didn’t realize at the time, but I guess a riptide was carrying me out to sea. A bright yellow life guard boat pulled up and told me to get in the boat. I declined. “I’ve got this. I’m a strong swimmer.”

Lifeguard, “No you don’t, you’re heading out to sea. You have no chance unless you had swim fins on. Get in the boat.”

I humbly(humiliated) climbed in the boat.

When I got back to the beach, my wife and kids were laughing at me, reliving the moment when they realized it was their big tough dad being rescued by the handsome young life guard. I was indeed, humiliated, but I was alive, and from then on, wore a pair of swim fins. :)

It is difficult to walk in the doors of a rescue mission. It is a place of last resort. It is difficult to ask for or accept help. It absolutely requires a level of humility, brokenness, to be rescued, to be restored, to get your swim fins, so to speak, for life’s big waves. It definitely helps when the rescuer is also humble, understands your predicament and welcomes you while affirming your dignity. There is no shame and there should be no shame in asking for help.

3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

4 RESCUE the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

-Psalms 82:3 – 4

Homeless No More…

Six years ago, we at Union Rescue Mission put together 10 Steps To Address Homelessness in LA. We hoped to start a movement called Youarethemission.com to spur our friends to action. As I read these steps today I realize they may be more timely now than ever, especially in Los Angeles.

Here is the 1st step, although today I might say & write; Change the heart of LA by changing the way we speak about people experiencing homelessness.

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Step 1: Change the way we think and talk about people experiencing homelessness.

Too often we describe or label people as “the homeless” or “addicts” or “transients.” These are precious people, made in the image of God, who are currently experiencing homelessness. People should never be defined or labeled exclusively by their current condition. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters. When we label people, we don’t see their potential and the possibilities within them. When we look the other way and ignore people, we dehumanize them and diminish their value. We need to look into our own hearts, change our thinking, and learn to recognize that “there, but for the grace of God, go I,” then ask, “What can I do?”Only then can we make a difference.

I am so honored, we are so honored our friends at our marketing agency, Grizzard, have put this idea & words into a powerful video.

We believe this change of heart, change of words, will spur us to take action, not only in LA, but throughout our country. I’ll be revisiting the 10 steps in my next few blogs. You can check them out now at youarethemission.com