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

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

What I See Right Outside My Window…

This is the view just outside my office window on Skid Row in Los Angeles…

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Heroin is being sold and used. The same with crack cocaine. And a new, legal “spice” is being smoked – causing violence everywhere on the street every day.

I’ve never seen so many precious people on Skid Row nor seen this level of mental illness, violence, and desperation. We need to take some bold steps.

Last year, your year-end gift helped us strengthen our jobs program & just last month 7 graduates were hired through Toyota by DTZ & affiliated companies!

We need your help again, and your partnership! Union Rescue Mission will always be committed to serving the precious people on Skid Row. In addition, we want to add services in outlying areas to decentralize Skid Row and help people who have worked hard to get clean and sober stay that way. If we can raise sufficient funds to close out our fiscal year ending June 30th, we will have the resources and momentum to begin this strategic shift. Every gift given by June 30th will be matched/doubled!

We hope to;

  • Build partnerships with several key churches that can not only be involved with guests at URM, but ultimately address homelessness in their local neighborhood with our help and support.
  • Begin an off-site(away from Skid Row) recovery program for single women
  • Investigate and implement an offsite men’s recovery program
  • Investigate long term restorative housing at Hope Gardens for the sake of our precious children experiencing homelessness
  • Launch social enterprises and Master lease apartments in outlying areas adjacent to jobs for our men and women graduates
  • Ascertain the neighborhoods sending people to Skid Row and partner with agencies to strengthen families and build resilient children to reverse this flow into Skid Row.
  • Along with this decentralized focus, we hope to strengthen our sustainability by investing in our staff with a greater focus on nurturing our future URM leaders, paying down debt, and building reserves

Our everyday life saving and life changing work and these bold initiatives will only be possible with your continued partnership.

Thank you!

andysig

P.S. Every gift you give until June 30th will be matched/doubled by other generous friends. We deeply appreciate and value your partnership. 

Are We Really Reducing Harm?

I understand that the Housing 1st push to provide Permanent Supportive Housing along with The Harm Reduction Model (allowing drug use in the privacy of one’s unit within Permanent Supportive Housing) is being touted From Washington D.C. to Los Angeles as the latest silver bullet to end homelessness, but has anyone considered housing options for those who want to remain sober and reside in a sober and safe environment?

Continue reading »

Times Haven’t Changed – It is a Question of Remaining Faithful

Times haven’t changed- it is a question of remaining faithful.

There’s a growing trend in America for Christians to shrink back from boldly
declaring that Jesus is the way and truth and the life.

Churches, organizations, and individuals must deal with tremendous and growing
pressure to not use the name of Jesus, or declare there is only one true way.
It seems nearly impossible to stay true without suffering repercussions and
hardship. Continue reading »

Important Update

I don’t know about you but with the end of 2013 looming right around the corner I find myself reflecting on all that has happened in the last 12 months and I must say that it has been nothing short of amazing  both for me personally and for Union Rescue Mission and the people we serve.

For example just this week I received a note from a grateful father whose long lost son was found on Skid Row by two of our teammates here at URM and returned home.  This morning, I was brought to tears as a co-worker shared how he has been taking breakfast each morning to a very troubled, dangerous man living on the sidewalk right outside our building, hoping and praying that this man will sense God’s love through our staff member and take the opportunity to come inside and receive the help he needs to turn his life around.

Continue reading »

Expand Your Holiday Shopping

Have you considered expanding your Holiday Shopping to make a huge impact and an eternal difference in someone’s life?

I had that opportunity just last night!  I finished our radio show, Amazing Stories From Skid Row, on 99.5 FM KKLA.com at 9:30 PM each weeknight.  It was late and I was tired, but my wife asked me to pick up a Thanksgiving Turkey before it was too late.  I’d been delaying shopping awaiting pay day.  As I jumped out of my car a man stumbled up to me, out of the shadows, obviously suffering from alcohol or drug abuse.  At first I waved him off.  Then I felt the familiar tug on my heart, looked back, and asked, “What do you need?”

He answered, “I’m hungry and I need help.  I assured him that I would get him a sandwich, and something to drink.

“Can you buy me a beer?”

“No, I can’t do that.”  I then gave him my card, told him that I am the CEO of Union Rescue Mission, and that we could help him with his recovery, followed by job training, then a job. I asked his name and he told me a bit of his story and that his name is Bobby.

As I walked in for a 20 lb. turkey, I simply added a Lunchable Uploaded, a 2 liter Diet Coke, and a big bag of chips to my shopping cart, and in effect, expanded my Holiday Shopping.  I had the opportunity presented to me to make a bit of a difference in someone’s life, instead of just thinking of my own and my family’s needs.  It may not have been much, it certainly didn’t cost much.  But if Bobby takes that card, decides to come to Union Rescue Mission and enter our 1 year intense recovery program, that little gesture of kindness I made very well might transform a life.

That is what Giving Tuesday is all about;  Expanding your Holiday Shopping opportunities by including those in need in not only your thoughts, but in your shopping list.  Americans spend $52 Billion between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Giving Tuesday began to shift the focus a bit to others in our community who very well are left out of this Holiday Giving Tradition, and like Bobby, left out in the cold.

Won’t you consider a gift to a worthy cause that transforms lives such as Union Rescue Mission?  Donate Online at urm.org/givingtuesday.  A gift, even a small portion of your shopping budget, could transform a precious soul like Bobby.  To learn more about Giving Tuesday, read my friend & twitter expert Beth Kanter’s Blog about Giving Tuesday.

Blessings,

andysig

 

Rev. Andy Bales, CEO

How Will We Ever End (Slow) Homelessness?

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A few years ago URM came up with a 10 step plan to end homelessness that we really believed in. Our goal was to get all people off the streets of Skid Row by 2016. You can view the well thought out plan at You Are The Mission.

Our Federal government, local Chamber of Commerce, United Way, and others also came up with a plan called Home For Good LA—they believed this would end chronic and veteran’s homelessness in Los Angeles by 2016.

Despite the well intended plans of many, homelessness has increased by 16% in the Los Angeles area in the last two years. Though veterans’ homelessness has decreased with the increased attention, single male and female homelessness has increased in spite of the increased Home for Good focus on these two groups of individuals experiencing homelessness.

Prior to 2012, there were several years where the number of people residing on Skid Row in Los Angeles was decreasing. This year, the numbers of people on the streets have jumped dramatically. In fact, I have never seen so many people on the streets of Skid Row in my nearly 14 years of volunteering or working here. It is frustrating to admit that whatever we are all doing; including the Federal Government, local government, local Chamber, United Way, Home For Good LA, and others — we are not ending homelessness.

The theory of focusing on the “anchor” people (who have been chronically homeless for years) and getting them off of the streets, so that homelessness would end, is simply not valid.

By shifting most of the resources on the few (10% to 20% of those experiencing homelessness – the Chronic and Veterans), most of the resources have shifted away from the other 80% to 90% experiencing homelessness; families, children, those on the edge and falling in and out of homelessness—and left them out in the cold.

Studies of adults experiencing chronic homelessness suggest that they were once chronically impoverished or homeless children, which may very well mean today’s chronically impoverished & homeless children will be tomorrow’s chronically homeless adults. This leads me to predict that efforts put forth by all of those focused only on the few right now will actually lead to increased homelessness — not only in the now and near future, but in the long run. In fact, I would declare right now we have an epidemic of homelessness that will only increase.

One of my respected and trusted peers, Larry Adamson, CEO and President of The Midnight Mission, says our Federal Government’s plan calls for people receiving housing and depending on the government in perpetuity. Neither Larry nor I believe this is a sustainable plan now or in the future as homelessness continues to increase.

Another knowledgeable trusted colleague has a more cynical view toward our Federal Government’s plan. He and others believe the plan is to make people experiencing homelessness obscure and out of sight, stuck away in very small quarters without the services they so desperately need to turn their lives around. Union Rescue Mission believes in ending homelessness, one life at a time, through Life Transformation. We believe our role in this challenge of homelessness is life transformation, followed by a job, followed by a home.

I’m not here to put the blame on anyone in particular. The truth is no one can keep up with the increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness our American Culture is producing.

One of the most common denominators for homelessness is isolation. Too often we hear “I have no ties to family” as the first of many issues that led to a guest becoming homeless. Families were disintegrated or bridges were burned, young people have ended up in foster care and then left foster care only to end up homeless or in prison and on their own. The reality is that broken relationships result in broken lives. Broken people lose touch with their humanity, their dignity, and their value as a person created by God. They are truly lost.

Many of the people who come to us are lost and don’t know it. Some are lost and have ceased to care. At Union Rescue Mission we believe our job is to reach out to them one life at a time with the most potent alternative, a relationship with Christ. It is our job to present the Gospel in words, actions, and commitment. Then and only then can the cycle of isolation, lack of family, lack of community that can lead to addiction, mental illness and yes, even homelessness be broken.

Until we address our families and culture of isolation, and develop a heart that will not allow even one person to be on their own living on the streets, we will not end homelessness.

Blessings,

andysig

 


Rev. Andy Bales

Written with assistance from URM teammates: Chaplain Steve Borja, Jacqui Groseth, and  Kitty Davis-Walker.

Bold Moves and Tenacious Tweaks

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Dear Friends,

As you probably know, I have a bold faith in God and count it a privilege to witness the miracles He performs in the lives of people at Union Rescue Mission each day.  This past year, I’ve also been humbled and amazed by God’s miraculous handy work in my own life.

About this time last year, I was a very sick fellow.  Struggling between a damaged heart, and nearly failed kidneys, I was stuck in a bit of a twilight zone.  Any procedure that could repair my heart would have completely wiped out my kidney function.  I was hanging on, doing my best, just barely staying off of kidney dialysis thanks to a very strict diet I’d maintained for two difficult years.

Then, on June 29th, 2012, after helping our team raise $5.8 Million in the last 40 days of the fiscal year, I had a heart attack, and actually, experienced heart failure.  My only option was a quadruple bypass.  One group of doctors felt I was too high a risk, but a courageous doctor, Dr. Randall Roberts, took a chance on me, and successfully performed the life-saving quadruple bypass.  I was able to bounce back quite a bit, attend a URM Board meeting after 16 days, and was back to work full-time approximately one month after surgery.  The life saving quadruple bypass, however, helped lead to the eventual demise of my kidneys, and after finishing last place in a long charity bike ride, I knew that it was time for dialysis.  I began dialysis on October 2nd, 2012.  I continued working each day and spent every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening from 6 PM to 10 PM on dialysis.

I did this for 4 and ½ months, and I was prepared to carry on like this for quite awhile.  However, my dear wife, Bonnie, stepped forward, was tested, and found to be a near perfect match for me.  That was a near miracle in itself.  She tested as if she were my daughter or my sister. On February 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day, Bonnie provided to me the gift of life through her kidney, and another bold doctor, Doctor Jeffrey Veale, took a big chance on me and placed my dear wife’s kidney in me.   I was in the UCLA hospital for only 5 days, and the day I was released, Bonnie, a friend and I walked 3.2 miles around the Rose Bowl.  We did that for 8 days in a row.  I returned to the work that I love at Union Rescue Mission 3 weeks and 2 days after receiving the kidney.  This may be a new world record, and another miracle recovery, as the previous record was 6 weeks and the norm for returning to work after a kidney transplant is 3 months.

While I was in the hospital, unable to sleep, late one night, I signed Bonnie and me up for the Rose Bowl Reverse Triathlon, just 4 and ½ weeks after our surgery.  Bonnie thought that decision was silly and premature, but when race day came, we both completed the event and Bonnie was 10th in her age group and 2nd among all of the women entered in the swim portion.  After 11 weeks of recovery, I feel like a brand new man.  My numbers show that my kidney is functioning like a normal healthy person’s kidney.  The numbers also show my bad cholesterol is low and my good cholesterol is high! My hopes are that any heart damage or clogged arteries are reversing and getting healthy too!

I know this is all due to God’s grace & goodness, your prayers, bold doctors, caring nurses, and my own tweaks to an extremely disciplined life style. However, none of this would have been possible without Bonnie’s sacrificial gift of love to me.

That is why I am writing to you, today.  I want to share with you, some other, much more important numbers, for Union Rescue Mission. In order to stay healthy, whole, transform lives, & move ahead with our goals, Union Rescue Mission needs some sacrificial gifts of love.  To be all that we can be to our guests, and to reach our goals for this year, we need each of our contributors’ active participating in helping us make up a $1 Million gap in our budgeted revenue, and in the next 50 days ending June 30th,  we need to work together to raise $5.5 Million.  If we are able to do this together, these are some of the bold actions we can take in this year and next:

  • Continue to house & serve 810 precious men, women and children each night
  • Continue to feed 2000 precious souls each day
  • Continue to provide medical services, dental services, legal help and mental health counseling to hundreds each day
  •  Bring Hope Gardens, Gateway, Women’s CLDP, to 95%capacity & renovate all living quarters at URM’s Hope Gardens Family Center-adding 12 to 20 more units for precious moms and children currently on Skid Row
  • Develop Women’s Recovery Program for 40 women on par with Men’s  1 Year Christian Life Discipleship Program in every aspect
  • Launch a jobs program that connects 30% of URM grads with Employment, including the hiring of a jobs developer, jobs assessor, and we are proud to announce that we’ve hired a director of Social Enterprises and should launch a Thrift Store this year that will help provide, sustaining income for URM, job training for our graduates, and jobs for our graduates.
  • Develop a stronger training program for staff, managers and Senior Leadership Team

 

I want to encourage you, do not be daunted by the $5.5 Million figure above, nor the few days left in our fiscal year!  Together, last year, we raised $5.8 Million in the last 40 days of 2012.  Remember, we believe in miracles.  I believe in miracles. 

If you love our precious guests, and appreciate the life transforming work that URM does, it is not so important the amount that you give today, but that you join many others in giving.  Together we can reach our goal and move ahead boldly with this life changing work and these life saving goals. 

Bless you.

Your co-worker in Christ,

Rev. Andy Bales

 

Transforming Power

As we’ve spent this Easter season focused on the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, in our graduates, in the life of Moe, even on my own life following a heart attack, quadruple bypass, and kidney transplant just 6 weeks ago, I hope you’ve been reminded and encouraged by our Lord’s amazing, transforming power.

This transforming power is the foundation of our life-changing, life-saving work at Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens, but we could not begin to carry out this work without your participation and financial support. Volunteers fill this amazing place with love and friends like you provide the resources that fuel this ministry.

I hope you’ll take a moment to Watch our End of Month Update and consider making a gift of love today, before this Easter season ends.

Though there are only a few days left before the celebration of the Resurrection, it is not too late to join us in our Easter Restoration Campaign! Please join the campaign today or consider making a gift to an existing campaign. Thank you!

andysig

Rev. Andy Bales