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Rev Andy’s Blog

Heartbreak on Skid Row

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I am writing to you today with a heavy heart.

As many of you may be aware and many of you have seen in the news, a resident on the streets of Skid Row was recently shot and killed in a struggle with the LAPD right in front of our building. It was a difficult day on Skid Row and we are still feeling the effects of this tragedy as we continue to do everything we can to be a light of God's love in this nearly impossible and heart wrenching environment.

It may be easy to pass judgment when something like this happens - it raises a lot of questions, but before anyone starts pointing fingers at the LAPD or this man who perished, let’s ask ourselves a question:


Why have we as the people of LA let this situation on Skid Row exist for so long?

Really this tragic event is more of a reflection that we have a Skid Row, an untenable living situation, and police are trying to maintain peace in an impossible environment. Too often we sit back and only act when there is tragedy. The truth is, we all have a part in this and the time to act is now.

There is a proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best time is today”. We can’t change the last 20 years of Skid Row, nor the last 120, but we can change it starting today. I am asking you to join us in prayer. There is exciting momentum in the direction to regionalize services throughout LA County and decentralize Skid Row. This will be done by encouraging and assisting local communities, churches, and cities to help their neighbors, brothers, and sisters experiencing homelessness in their own communities.

The streets of Skid Row are no place to live and any continuance of this practice demands too much from the city’s law enforcement. My question remains – why have we let the situation exist for so long?

It is time for the people of faith to lead the way in reversing this curse on our cities most vulnerable.

Join us as we continue to pray together and strive to make a difference in this city. We have faith in the Hope that comes from Christ and together we will see that Hope come alive.

Blessings,

andysig

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A New Perspective!

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I returned home 6 months ago from biking across Iowa then circling Lake Tahoe on our tandem on a charity ride and despite a wound boot was probably in the best biking shape I've been in the last 30 years.

Then three flesh eating bacteria (likely from the streets of Skid Row) infiltrated my foot and nearly destroyed my foot and more.

Well, I've ended up with lots of treatments and most importantly ended up learning patience and more by spending the last 6 months in a wheel chair.

My first day in the chair while going to a meeting on Skid Row I was carrying a folder full of important papers in my lap. As I crossed the intersection, I hit a bump and dropped all the papers. As I tried to pick them up, the light turned yellow then red and a troop of fast cars and angry drivers began honking.

Within an instant I became that guy in a wheel chair on Skid Row stopping traffic and hollering at cars!

I've discovered ramps that were out of code, even at high end buildings. I've encountered many heavy, nearly impossible to open doors that are supposedly handicap accessible. There were plenty of bumps and cracks in the sidewalk and on the streets that will absolutely throw you out of your chair and onto the pavement.

I've had a hard time making eye contact and getting service at restaurant counters and the other night at a local event, found it impossible to network with other folks who were standing around tables and talking. When the ball room doors opened, I found no way to pass by the tables and chairs in order to find a chair so I sat back by the entrance and felt invisible as I waved my hand when an award I was supposed to pick up for a friend was announced.

Yet, the wheel chair had also become a bit of a secret weapon. I am able to approach people experiencing homelessness, especially if they happen to be in a chair, much more ably even than I could before.

The other night as I was struggling up the sidewalk to get to a meeting, I passed hundreds of people and the only one who said "Hi, I'll pay for your foot, sir", was a man who was homeless and sitting next to a fence. On the way back from the meeting I was heading for a big hill to my car and a young man appeared from Pershing Square and asked if could push me up the hill to my car. His name was Will and he said he sleeps on the bench in the park. I handed him my card and some cash and invited him to URM.

Just before a cold spell, I went out on the sidewalk in front of URM to invite folks into our emergency cots. A young man was peering through the windows to our cafeteria. I asked him if he had a place to stay and he said, "Yes, but I'm hungry."

When I returned with 2 sack lunches, he said, "I didn't tell the truth. I have nowhere to stay."

He followed me into the Mission, received a cot, then later joined our recovery program.

I had foot surgery a couple of weeks ago and I'm hopeful of being upright again, at least in a wound boot or orthopedic shoes.

But I am thankful for the experience. Many of our precious guests experiencing homelessness are disabled and face the obstacles I've described above every day.

My weakness is my secret weapon.

"9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

2 Corinthians 12:9-11

Blessings,

andysig
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Dream with URM this Upcoming Year!

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We've just completed fiscal year 2013/2014 at Union Rescue Mission and when I say “we”, I mean you and all of our partners, providing the resources, lifting us up in prayer, joining our volunteer team, and spreading the word of the excellent life changing work happening here on the streets of Skid Row as well as out at our Hope Gardens Family Center in the Valley.

These are some of the accomplishments your gifts made possible this past year:

• Grew and strengthened our Jobs program for graduates & guests at URM
• Established a Thrift Store (opening soon) as the first of several social enterprises we will use to train grads, hire grads, and provide a sustainable income for URM
• Installed Air Conditioning for URM guests for 1st time in 20 years in new building
• Doubled Return on Investment for URM fundraising events
• Completed renovation and opened up Concord building at Hope Gardens Family Center which significantly increased our capacity to help families in need
• Substantially increased URM Cash Reserves
• Hired two instructors for our Learning Center and obtained a grant from The LA Dodgers to upgrade computers and “Dodgerize” this important area of our program

These accomplishments, along with our everyday work of housing nearly 800 precious souls and serving over 2000 meals per day, would not be possible without your active involvement, participation, and sacrificial financial gifts. Thank you!

This is what makes me excited about the future, knowing you and Our Lord stand with us as we take on what seems to be an impossible task. The task of caring for and reaching many whom the world has cast off. One of our chaplains, John Russell, preached in chapel recently that the kingdom of God is like a shade tree, a big shade tree that invites people forgotten by the rest of the world into the shade. I realized as he shared that this is URM, a big shade tree that invites the least and the lost of this world back into the shade, into a loving environment, into a life changing environment. Thanks for making this work possible!

After 123 years of faithful service, we are not finished providing that shade, in fact, we are just beginning! Our overarching goal for the next 3 to 5 years is to: Decentralize Skid Row by expanding our services in outlying communities while measuring and sharing the outcomes of our life transforming work.

Specific plans for the coming year include:

• Strengthen our team by providing appropriate staff pay increases for the 1st time since the Great Recession.
• In an effort to decentralize services we hope to reach a capacity of 80% downtown, while reaching a capacity of 95% at Hope Gardens Family Center.
• In an effort to look after children until they graduate from high school and move to college, we are investigating long-term restorative housing for families who after graduating Hope Gardens do not have the means to move on their own.
• We will partner with Biola Professors to better measure and improve life transformation among our program participants.
• In an effort to further strengthen recovery we are investigating an offsite men’s and women’s recovery program. I believe we will soon have the means to make this a reality, possibly in fiscal year 2015/2016.
• We will continue to build our network by adding at least 1 key partner, like the incredible partnership with Pacific Coast Church of San Clemente, which mentors our men in recovery and holds Iron Man Conferences here at URM. We may enter into a local partnership with PCC helping them and another church establish a shelter in Dana Point in the future.
• We will establish partnerships with churches/agencies to engage neighborhoods which are producing most of our guests and the people on Skid Row. We want to strengthen young people and families, help them develop resilience to homelessness, to stem the flow into Skid Row.
• We will open our 1st URM Thrift Store in Covina in 6 weeks to train and hire graduates and provide a sustaining income for URM. We are hoping to find adjacent housing for our URM and Hope Gardens graduates who will be employed at The Thrift Store
• We will launch a race/walk to raise awareness and funds to alleviate homelessness.
• We will build reserves to 3 months of operating, and begin Phase 1 of a Capital Campaign to make improvements, i.e. new elevators downtown, and pay off mortgage of Hope Gardens. Though we plan to just begin this in fiscal year 2014/1015, my hope and belief is that this may be accomplished by fiscal year end 2015, and no later than fiscal year end 2016.

These are some planned bold steps, as we maintain our vital work on the streets of Skid Row while branching out into uncharted territory, but we know our God is faithful, and we know you will continue to stand with us as a vital partner.

We know none of our work could be accomplished without our Lord’s blessing and your generous gifts of love. Could you give your stamp of approval and your willingness to be part of the team that makes this happen by providing a generous financial gift today?

Bless you,

andysig
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