A Most Challenging Time

Last week during an interview with friend and writer for the LA Daily News, Troy Anderson, I shared that the challenge Union Rescue Mission is facing right now is far greater than the challenge URM faced during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  Troy was startled by this statement and asked “Can you provide statistical data to back that up?” I replied, “Yes, I can.”

I quickly asked our URM historian, Liz Mooradian, to assist me in some research and did some checking of my own.  We learned that there were 1.2 Million people in Los Angeles in 1933, and in our hall of history on our 2nd floor it states that in 1933, URM was one of few Missions in downtown LA, and we fed 42% of the free meals to hungry people in Los Angeles.  That year, we provided 133,145 meals and gave aid (food boxes, job finding assistance, etc.) to 304 families.  All of our history books show that we did not house families during the Great Depression, but housed only men.  Families appear to have either turned to other family members or stayed in tents like my own father’s family did many times during that difficult time as shown in the picture below. 

In 2010, there are 3.6 Million people in Los Angeles, or 3 times the number of people that there were in 1933. Union Rescue Mission served an astounding 1,284,687 meals, or nearly 10 times the number of meals that URM served during that difficult year of 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression.  And when you consider that unlike 1933, Union Rescue Mission is not one of the few Missions in downtown LA anymore, but rather the biggest one of many, the fact that nearly 1.3 Million meals came from URM alone, demonstrates how staggering the situation really is.

During the Great Depression, URM provided 42% of free meals available in LA and 2% of available beds. I am unsure as to what percentage of meals we are providing today, but we are providing nearly 10% of the available beds! Along with a 3 times proportionate challenge on meals, in 2010 URM housed several hundred families over the course of the year and as many as 94 families & 190 children on any given night. 

Please hear the distress and familiarity of the words in our annals from the Great Depression:

After the depression, as after World War I, the financial situation was such that local churches were hard pressed to meet their own budgets and doors once open to the Mission (URM) for monetary appeals were closing.

Business failures increased the numbers of unemployed and distressed who looked to the Mission for assistance. Many who arrived in California thinking it a glorious land of promise found themselves penniless and alone. 

The scope of the Mission’s work in those days was immense; no local church would have dreamed, on such meager resources and with so limited staff, of engaging in such a program.

The final URM note from the Great Depression Days is not necessarily an encouraging one, but one during this great crisis of 2007-2010 that I completely understand:

Mounting financial pressures came to the explosive point in July, 1936. With income insufficient to meet operating expenses and a $19,000 mortgage against the Mission properties, the Board of Directors voted to vacate the position of superintendent (CEO), and with this step Superintendent Eldridge’s services were terminated. 

Now, please hear the distress in my words.  Union Rescue Mission and our families and precious children living here and throughout the USA have never in history faced a greater challenge than the one we are facing right now.  Children under the age of 18 now make up 54% of people experiencing homelessness! 

Here are just a few headlines from around the country:

Family homelessness rising in the United States- http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE4AB18I20081112

Shocker! More Families Are Homeless- http://homelessness.change.org/blog/view/shocker_more_families_are_homeless

Increase in family homelessness impact children the most –http://www.examiner.com/x-25447-LA-Unemployment-Examiner~y2009m10d22-Increase-in-family-homelessness-impact-children-the-most

More Families Are Becoming Homeless-http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/11/AR2009071102099.html

Over and above URM’s heroic efforts during the Great Depression, our team at Union Rescue Mission and I, with your help,  have boldly stepped up to the challenge of welcoming every family who has come to our doors over the last 3 years. We desperately need your continued support. We are committed to making sure no child is left on the streets of our city. No child should ever suffer from the devastation of homelessness.  My father did, and the pain of that experience stayed with him and he shared it with me in his final days while he was on his death bed.  He told me that at the age of 4 he hung onto his Dad’s neck for his life as his Dad jumped on a freight car to move to California. He had several homeless experiences when he was 4, 9 and 14.  He is pictured below, at age 14, standing outside of his “home”, a tent in Azusa Canyon, California.  He lived in tents, garages, sheds, even cars and freight cars at times.

My dad’s eyes welled up with tears every time he discussed the pain and embarrassment of being homeless.  I believe his pain is a part of what drives me.  I see my Dad in each and every one of the precious kids who we are honored to serve here at URM.  Please continue to support us so that we can continue to step up to the need and welcome each person who comes to us. 

Much love, Andy B.

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