“All my life, i wanted to be part of something, to feel like I fit in somewhere,” says Ruthie, a 57-year-old former crack addict who spent 16 years living out of a tent on Skid Row.
Death and alcoholism decimated her family when Ruthie was young, so she spent much of her youth in foster care back in her native North Carolina. “The trouble started when I was 15, when I started drinking, smoking marijuana, and popping pills,” she recalls.
She managed to get married at age 23, but tragedy struck again a week later, when her husband was brutally murdered. She tried moving to Los Angeles to start over. Instead, she fell into a life of more alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. In the mid 1980s, with three small children, she moved back to North Carolina, where she got married and had one more child.
But on March 7, 1992, Ruthie watched helplessly as her husband and three of her children died in a house fire.
“I heard them screaming,” she says. “That was the worst thingI ever witnessed. The second worst was when they put dirt on them in their graves. From then on, every night I could see it and smell it all over again.”
Unable to cope with the trauma, Ruthie left her surviving child behind and ran back to Los Angeles, where she spent the next 16 years living in a tent on Skid Row and smoking crack. “Crack made me forget about everything. I didn’t have to hurt no more or cry no more,” she says. But the drugs and the streets took a toll on Ruthie’s health, and in 2009, she’d had enough. She joined a drug program and got clean and sober. Two years later, as part of a work therapy program, Ruthie returned to Union Rescue Mission, where she would live as a guest and work in the kitchen.
“That first day I walked through the door here at the Mission, I saw a sign that said, ‘The Way Home,’” she recalls, with a light in her eye. “I knew right then I found what I’d been looking for my whole life. Working and living here at the Mission, I’m surrounded by people who know my name. They look me in the eye and it’s like they’re saying, ‘You matter, Ruthie. I love you.’ The first time someone said that to me, I almost cried. I belong here.
“Union Rescue Mission has changed my life, and with God in my back pocket, I can’t lose. I found my way home.”
Skid Row Through Ruthie’s Eyes
I moved to Skid Row in 1993, when there were tents everywhere. These streets can be rough on a woman. But I was lucky. I quickly found a man and stuck close to him for protection. A woman needs that out here to survive. We got us a tent and spent 16 years down here. It was wild. Every day, we had to step over human waste. There were people walking around naked, people having sex right there in broad daylight. I saw people get beat, stabbed, or cut up over a nickel. I saw women get raped or beat up and left bleeding on the sidewalk.
For a long time, we never saw any cops down here. It was every man for himself. There were no rules except watch where you step and mind your own business. I learned how to wash my clothes in a bucket and take showers wherever I could. And I learned that as soon as it got dark to get in my tent and stay there. For 16 years, I did whatever I had to do to survive. But I survived.
After years of decline, the number of people on Skid Row has tragically skyrocketed over the past few years. Today, as many as 2,000 precious men and women — made in the image of God — now call these dangerous sidewalks and back alleys “home.” For the past 122 years, thanks to thousands of caring people just like you, Union Rescue Mission has transformed the lives of countless hurting souls on these streets, leading them back to health and wholeness — and home.
It doesn’t take a lot to help a hurting man or woman escape Skid Row and get back on their feet. But today, thanks to an extraordinary matching grant, your generous gift of $25, $35, or more will help provide TWICE the food and shelter, and a fresh start at life for people experiencing homelessness.
So please send the most generous gift you can today. Thank you! For more information or to put your gift to work even faster, go to urm.org/icare
Notes From Andy
Act Today — and Make a Difference
Remember these lyrics from a popular 1980s TV show? “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name . . . you want to be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You want to be where everybody knows your name.” That song always reminds me of Ruthie, here at Union Rescue Mission. Here she found home and people who care about her. Now her infectious joy lights up our Mission with hope. The streets of Skid Row inflict horrific damage on the men and women, like Ruthie, who live here.
Loneliness. Despair. Defeat. Depression.
And apart from true life transformation, most will never recover.
But life transformation takes more than offering people food, shelter, and safety. The folks on Skid Row need those things, of course. But more than that, they need to know they belong somewhere. They need community and family. They need love and friendship, and to know they matter . . . to be where everybody knows their name. That’s where life transformation happens. And, thanks to caring people like you, that’s what Union Rescue Mission is all about.
2 thoughts on “The Mission – June 2014”
Wow! That story just blew me away! In a flash my whole perception shifted from blame to sorrow and understanding. I honestly can’t afford a monthly payment being a full time student and all. But what I will do now come back to the kitchen again to help out. Thanks for the message Reverend. I’m embarrassed to say it brought a few tears to my eyes.
Thank you Mike for your kind words! We hope to see you back in the kitchen soon!