Often Under Siege

Serving at one of the largest rescue missions, if not the largest, in the United States has its challenges—especially when it’s in the heart of Los Angeles’ Skid Row, one of the most difficult places on the face of the earth.  For those not familiar with Skid Row in LA, it is roughly a 50 square block area that has been devastated over the years by a practice and policy of containment and corralling of people who are homeless, addicted, or mentally troubled by the powers that be in all of LA County.

For years area agencies, hospitals, police departments, and others from outside communities have dropped off, even bussed in people who are unwanted in their communities.  This created what I call one of the greatest human tragedies/disasters in the United States.

At one time there were thousands of desperate people on Skid Row, just outside of the walls of Union Rescue Mission.  Crime and violence, murder and overdose deaths were rampant.  Large rats were, and still are, a part of the scenery.  Drug deals and drug use could be found at every step.

I’m happy to report that there has been improvement as the thousands have turned into hundreds due to hard work by area agencies and the Safer Cities Initiative by the LAPD.  Crime has been reduced.  Violence, murder and overdose deaths are down.  But drug use, drug sales and violence—especially against women—are still intolerably high.

At Union Rescue Mission, we work hard to make sure that a walk inside our doors is a pleasant experience and a transformational step away from the struggles that wait right outside. That is why I left with great concern last Friday when I learned that someone had run into our parking lot gate—breaking it.  The gate would have to be left open, putting our guests at risk over the weekend.

It is not just the gates and secure doors that keep trouble out and bring peace inside.  It is a combination of vigilant staff and loving volunteers who truly make the difference.  However, locked gates and doors sure help!

A staff person inquired of me regarding the broken gate stating “The battle never ends.”  I then shared that this was just one of a number of battles that I had waged on this day before the Holiday weekend.  My text back read “Battled economy, housing 1st push, drug dealing, bed bugs and hospital drop off so far today – now the parking gate”.

That day I had already poured over the budget making adjustments to keep the folks under our watch employed, while also trying to keep enough reserves to weather the summer doldrums of giving—not to mention the continued budget battle in the Great Recession of 2007, 2008, 2009, …   I was on the phone and writing letters trying to raise the necessary funds to keep Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens Family Center strong in spite of the overwhelming needs coming our way.  I ordered 20 more EDAR units so that we could continue accepting families, all while watching our Chapel become a tent city.  I had also taken the time to write to area newspapers and community leaders, sharing my blog from June 4th regarding the Push for Housing First.  I am concerned that while URM is stepping up to meet the needs of so many families in crisis, community leaders and politicians want to move funding away from missions, shelter and other “archaic models”, as they termed it, toward Housing First. Please take time to read my blog on the Housing First Push from June 4th under http://revandysblog.com

I had also been alerted/become suspicious of two possible sources of drugs being brought into our building from the outside.  So I took steps to address this with enhanced security, drug testing, and an alert to the LAPD undercover unit.  Then I became aware that a medical marijuana dispensary may be placed two short blocks away from URM. So you can believe this caused alarm as well.

Next, I declared all out war on a vicious group of bed bugs that we had heard was coming from other agencies in the area.  One of the fellows that has had his life transformed here at URM showed me an infected elbow.  So I sent our team to check out his room and mattress.  When our Environmental Services leader put his finger up to a hole in the mattress, he pulled it away and it was bleeding. “Yes, that is bed bugs”, he declared.  We treated the area and the bed bugs like terrorists, throwing out 26 mattresses, ordering new, and spraying the area thoroughly.  Can you believe that these little terrors will cost us $10,000!?

Finally, I received a call on my way home that yet again an area hospital had dropped off a person with mental health issues at our door without any advance notice or proper referral.  So I asked our team to investigate.  See http://revandysblog.com from April 15th, 2009 to learn more about this.

Recently a fine, wonderful gentleman asked me why Union Rescue Mission is faith-based, dependent on Christ, and why we require employees to sign a statement of faith.  The honest answer is that we would not even want to begin to take these challenges on without the power of Jesus Christ.  I know that I would not and could not even begin such a task on my own.

8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  2 Corinthians 4:11-12

Thanks for your prayers!  We treasure them.  Andy B.

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