Resources, Responsibilities and Rescue Missions

There has been some controversy over guests paying a fee for services, both nearby on Skid Row and in New York City.  The controversy arose when a local group in LA bought a building, and after a few months began offering a cot and a place to sleep for $125.00 per month.  Some advocates for people experiencing homelessness cried out about the fee, but also in regards to the fact that only the cot and case management was offered, and that there were no shower services or regular food program to go along with the cot.

In New York City a bigger storm arose over the City of New York carrying out a Client Contribution Program, a pilot program to charge guests with an adequate income a gradually growing fee to both sustain the shelter program and to develop responsible choices among the guests.  I have posted the link below;

“Dusting off an idea dating back to the Giuliani era, the Bloomberg administration has quietly started charging rent to homeless people who stay in emergency city shelters, the Voice has learned.

With no fanfare, Bloomberg officials in June began charging residents of at least four Brooklyn shelters up to 30 percent of their income, records obtained by the Voice show. People who don’t pay could be kicked out of the shelter, the documents show.

Eric Deutsch, a spokesman for the Department of Homeless Services, tells the Voice that the so-called Client Contribution Program is a “very small” pilot program for people with a significant amount of income in the shelter. “We’re trying a variety of new strategies to help families and individuals move towards permanency and into their own homes,” he said.

According to Deutsch, the first month at the shelter is free, with fees rising from 10 percent in the second month to 30 percent in the fourth month. Deutsch said the money goes into a pool that “clients” can draw from when they leave the shelter. But shelter residents say a number of people have already refused to pay the rent fee because they can’t afford it, and because the city hasn’t offered any additional rights or benefits in return.”

At the Rescue Mission I ran from 1986 to 1990 in Des Moines, Iowa, we had a similar practice.  The Door of Faith Mission was established by George Holloway, a man who had a 3rd grade education, spent 37 years on the road without a home, going from shelter to shelter, until he had his life transformed right here at Union Rescue Mission, I believe.  He returned to Des Moines, Iowa, with a philosophy of running mission’s differently;

  • He made it welcoming for the entire day, instead of making people line up at night to come in for a meal and a bed
  • >He fed the men well so they could feel good, go out and work, and get help avoiding the temptations of drugs and alcohol
  • He required sobriety from those who lived at the Mission because it is difficult to stay sober when surrounded by the site and smell of alcohol
  • He required the men to work and pay their own way, because people feel better about themselves when they work, and pay their own way. It affirms their dignity, teaches responsibility, prepares them for paying rent when they move, and it provided 1/3 of the needed income for operating the shelter.  The rest of the income came from churches and individuals. The first 3 days were free of charge or paid by the County, subsequently the next 30 day fee was $6.00 per day, then $7.00 per day, and finally $8.00 per day to prepare the men to pay rent.

In effect, I learned everything I know about properly running a Rescue Mission not from my more than 15 years in colleges, universities and seminaries, but almost entirely from a man with a 3rd grade education.

I came to Union Rescue Mission with this philosophy intact, but I have not implemented all of the components of this philosophy as of yet.  I was reminded of George Holloway’s teachings the other day, when a front line staff mention that some guests residing free at Union Rescue Mission have an income of $1,000 and some an income of $2,000 and that it is difficult to watch someone stay free, eat free, and irresponsibly fritter away huge sums of money in the first few days only to be completely broke the rest of the month, while our worker has suffered 2 pay decreases and responsibly struggles to make ends meet.

I’d like to start a dialogue and get your thoughts on this dilemma.  What do you think?  Should Mission guests pay a fee to learn responsibility, prepare for paying rent, and help sustain the Mission’s operating costs during such a challenging time?  Thanks for weighing in!



20 thoughts on “Resources, Responsibilities and Rescue Missions

  1. Myles Rose on

    When this is shared via the facebook button the link does not direct to this page, something breaks. Perhaps it is just a timing issue?

  2. Robin Vestal on

    It’s tricky; If you decide to charge rent you might have a system where a portion is set aside to help people save to get into housing.
    Obviously you don’t want to charge someone who has no source of income but everyone should contribute to their own well being so I dont’ think it’s completely unreasonable for the working homeless.

  3. Thank you, Myles. I have forwarded your alert! I appreciate the help. Robin, thank you for sharing your perspective. I also believe a savings plan is important. I really appreciate you weighing in!

  4. Kristin on

    I appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on the question of whether or not to charge a fee for mission guests. I am in full disagreement with the idea that mission guests pay a fee for their stay. That defeats the purpose of the many hardworking families and adults who stay at the mission in hopes of saving enough money to one day leave and live independently. What about the homeless who do not have jobs? They will have to continue to sleep on the cold cement because they don’t have the means to stay in a shelter that was originally built to support them? I have been donating to the mission for years and will no longer support the mission both financially and with hard goods if the mission decides to switch over to the philosophy of “paying rent.”

  5. Thank you, Kristin. I really appreciate you speaking up! Thanks for taking the time and for sharing your passionate response!

  6. Kristin on

    You’re so welcome Andy. I truly appreciate what you are doing for our community. You are making such a difference in so many peoples lives.

  7. Roddy Rose on

    Speaking as someone who has benefited the from the Rescue Mission, I believe that there must be some accountability on the part of those who have an income of 1000. As an apprentice in the internet cafe I see the same faces day after day and month after month. It becomes grievous seeing people get a check on the first of the month, then they are broke after a week or so. Some of the men were at one time in the program but left on their own, only to come back busted and disgusted. Right in front of them is an opportunity to get help(including managing their money. The whole point is that unless one surrenders they will continue on the same cycle and get the same results which unfortunately will be negative results..
    I know because that used to be me until I surrendered.

  8. Thank you, Rod and all. This dialogue is very helpful. Wow!

  9. Michael Bond on

    When I heard about the organization charging $125/month, I was told the price included only a cot with a dirty blanket at night and no bathroom facilities of any kind. People were being told to go across the street to the Midnight if they felt the urge at night. What I was told sounded like a total ripoff of relatively defenseless people; it also sounded illegal to me. Of course, if the URM charged people, facilities would be provided and I assume meals as well, so the URM charging doesn’t bother me. Instead, it seems more like a tactical decision: will it help or hurt in the struggle to get people off the streets permanently? And it sounds like it may deserve a trial to see whether it works.

  10. Thank you for sharing Michael. This input is all very helpful. I hope more people weigh in with diverse views. Blessings

  11. Hi Rev Andy. Perhaps the naming of the program is critical as it should reflect a covenant perspective rather than ‘taking from’? ‘Free rent’ should not be interpreted as a program of entitlement if, for a season, the service of ‘free rent’ saved a life. That said, at some point, dignity is not realized if one side does all the work: the binary system of elitism/impoverished would seem to be re-inscribed or replicated in an act of well meaning charity. it seems the plan of savings and money management, similar to debtors anonymous might work well.
    been there, on the underside, so i speak from continued recovery. blessings!

  12. Mary, your thoughts are powerful and right on. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Bless you!

  13. i appreciate everything the mission has ever done for me thank you

  14. Terrence on

    I feel that guests who can afford to contribute for thier Services should do so. It will help them gain self-respect and In turn earn the respect of others.

  15. Jerry Thacker on

    Hello Reverend Randy Bales:

    First of all, I would like to thank the Union Rescue Mission for letting me welcome Jesus Christ into my life and saving it more than once! The Union Rescue Mission has always been available when I needed help the most! Thank you!

    Many homeless people want to work, but the self-image they carry within themselves does not allow them to have the confidence that is required in getting a job these days. If the mission could show proof that they actually found a job and walked the person in need to the job site for his or her first day and then the person said that they would rather not work, then there is a possibility that I could see your point. Three days to get a job? Some people need three days to let their feet heal?

    I am just writing you this letter to ad my voice on this matter. I already know how qualified the Union Rescue Mission’s staff (all great people) are. I even know that you have already considered the options that I mentioned, but I need pratice in helping others.

    Thank you,

    Jerry Thacker
    Pacific Standard Time

  16. 30 percent to the Mission, 30 percent to their savings account and 40 percent in there pocket. Most important, they’re getting three meals, showers, beds, medical, dental and counseling for that 30 percent.

  17. Akiliah Manuel Mills on

    I lean towards the percentage system Benjamin suggested. A “Program Fee” implies that case management, housing advocacy and life skills training will be offered. These are great services but require staff. I am curious if the mission will hire ample staff, particularly for the men to ensure case management for guests can be accomplished and effective? If so, I see no hindrance. If not, I think it should be called “rent”.

  18. Brenda Mitchell on

    I propose that those individuals who do have income contribute (at a small percentage of their income, even if it is 10%) to the mission, as a matter of assisting to keep the resources of the mission available for all who desperately need its services. The small contributions from the many would be a way of acting in solidarity with those who could not contribute and could also work in concert with a savings plan to be fully accessed at the time of an individual’s departure. Those who are experiencing homelessness are often the most “in touch” and compassionate with others in the same difficult circumstances, and often wish to assist, in my experience.

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