Heroes for Hope

Just last week I realized the full extent of the way that our URM/Hope Gardens Family Center team has stepped up to meet the growing needs of homeless families and individuals coming desperately to our doors.

We are now averaging 965 individuals per night at Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens Family Center, and this is after the Winter Shelters (December 1st to March 15th) closed their doors. This is 400 more people per night since just 4 short years ago! As the funding from the City/County LAHSA for Winter Shelter ran out, we decided to keep 80 men’s cots and 40 women’s cots in operation on the 1st Floor at our own expense. We just could not ask anyone seeking shelter to leave from under our URM roof.

Our meals have grown from 2100 per day just 18 months ago, to nearly 3500 per day! At this rate we will serve 1.25 Million meals this year! It is a bit like the fishes and loaves story from the New Testament because our budget for purchasing food is only $360,000!

As you know, when the economic crunch came last October, two parent families and single dads with children began arriving at our door. Overnight we transformed our 5th floor from offices and rooms for occasional volunteers, to housing for two parent and single dad families. We now have 16 families on our 5th floor with 40 precious children. Of these families 47 percent have never faced homelessness before! The other night we were completely filled with families, and an expectant couple showed up. We placed them in an EDAR (pup-tent like structure) until a room could be found. Their precious baby girl was welcomed into the world just last week.

Some agencies around us have responded to this crisis by reducing costs through staff and service cuts—some by as much as 23%! We had to ask, “If we don’t step up now, who will?”  And so, we made a decision to step up and meet the growing need! We have been able to increase services and meet the need not only due to our donors’ sacrificial giving, but also because our URM/Hope Gardens staff has taken heroic measures to care for those with nowhere else to go. Cutting services, letting staff go, and adding to the ranks of the unemployed and potentially homeless was simply not an option. Instead, our team decided to sacrifice across-the-board for the sake of those we are called to serve.

Our staff has taken two 5% pay cuts. The employer match to our employees’ 401K has stopped. We’ve frozen hiring and wages. Though our wages have been reduced, 65% of our staff still signed up as Heroes for Hope, pledging a part of their paycheck each month to support the work and ministry of URM/Hope Gardens Family Center. This is amazing!

We’ve reduced other costs as well. We cut our warehouse costs by $10,000 per month through collaboration with the Salvation Army on a shared warehouse. One of our partners agreed to continue services to our guests without a $9,000 per month reimbursement from URM! We also made some strategic decisions to move to some new vendors who could add to our cost savings by $8,000 per month.

We all did this sacrifice and cost-cutting without hurting the quality of care or love for our guests. A gentleman the other day shared on the radio about URM:

The slogan here is “The Way Home”, and coming into the doors, coming into the building definitely gave me the feeling of, “I’m on my way back.” God is in this building from the basement to the roof, and you can feel it when you walk in. I knew then that I was going to be ok. Getting God back in my life was going to be the only way that I was going to get back the things I had lost. The hope factor in my life has changed dramatically. I now see a goal for myself. I now see a purpose for myself. Since I’ve been here in the program at URM I have gotten a relationship with my family back—with my mother, my grandparents. I’m actually in school at USC. Everything has completely turned around within a matter of months. I can’t do enough for the rest of my life to pay back what this Mission has done for me.

Another program graduate showed his growth here with this letter to us when his folks became ill:

Since February I’ve know that my mother has had cancer. It was my hope that she would improve with the care and prayers of doctors and friends. But that is not the case it appears, as her health has taken a turn for the worse. My mother is now 88 years young and my father is 92 years young. While it is truly a blessing to still have my parents here with me, my father is now suffering from Alzheimer’s as well. Because of my contact with the Mission, my life has changed. The way I think it has changed? My relationship with God has improved and my willingness to help others has grown. God has truly blessed me! I’ve met a lot of good people, a lot of caring people. The program itself allowed me to gain skills I didn’t have before coming to the Mission. As I have learned to respect myself more and think about the choices I have, it all comes back to just plain old giving back to God what God has given me. I’m very grateful to everyone here at the Union Rescue Mission. I will tell anyone and be proud to say so. There is love, understanding and true giving here at the Mission. Downtown in the middle of all the madness, God’s presence is here. I will be leaving for Seattle, Washington Wednesday, May 20th. Please pray for me. Pray for my mother and father. And I will pray for everyone here. This has truly been, The Way Home. THANK YOU!

It is hard for me to describe in words the honor I feel in serving alongside our URM/Hope Gardens Family Team. They are true Heroes for Hope!

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