A New Perspective!


I returned home 6 months ago from biking across Iowa then circling Lake Tahoe on our tandem on a charity ride and despite a wound boot was probably in the best biking shape I’ve been in the last 30 years.

Then three flesh eating bacteria (likely from the streets of Skid Row) infiltrated my foot and nearly destroyed my foot and more.

Well, I’ve ended up with lots of treatments and most importantly ended up learning patience and more by spending the last 6 months in a wheel chair.

My first day in the chair while going to a meeting on Skid Row I was carrying a folder full of important papers in my lap. As I crossed the intersection, I hit a bump and dropped all the papers. As I tried to pick them up, the light turned yellow then red and a troop of fast cars and angry drivers began honking.

Within an instant I became that guy in a wheel chair on Skid Row stopping traffic and hollering at cars!

I’ve discovered ramps that were out of code, even at high end buildings. I’ve encountered many heavy, nearly impossible to open doors that are supposedly handicap accessible. There were plenty of bumps and cracks in the sidewalk and on the streets that will absolutely throw you out of your chair and onto the pavement.

I’ve had a hard time making eye contact and getting service at restaurant counters and the other night at a local event, found it impossible to network with other folks who were standing around tables and talking. When the ball room doors opened, I found no way to pass by the tables and chairs in order to find a chair so I sat back by the entrance and felt invisible as I waved my hand when an award I was supposed to pick up for a friend was announced.

Yet, the wheel chair had also become a bit of a secret weapon. I am able to approach people experiencing homelessness, especially if they happen to be in a chair, much more ably even than I could before.

The other night as I was struggling up the sidewalk to get to a meeting, I passed hundreds of people and the only one who said “Hi, I’ll pay for your foot, sir”, was a man who was homeless and sitting next to a fence. On the way back from the meeting I was heading for a big hill to my car and a young man appeared from Pershing Square and asked if could push me up the hill to my car. His name was Will and he said he sleeps on the bench in the park. I handed him my card and some cash and invited him to URM.

Just before a cold spell, I went out on the sidewalk in front of URM to invite folks into our emergency cots. A young man was peering through the windows to our cafeteria. I asked him if he had a place to stay and he said, “Yes, but I’m hungry.”

When I returned with 2 sack lunches, he said, “I didn’t tell the truth. I have nowhere to stay.”

He followed me into the Mission, received a cot, then later joined our recovery program.

I had foot surgery a couple of weeks ago and I’m hopeful of being upright again, at least in a wound boot or orthopedic shoes.

But I am thankful for the experience. Many of our precious guests experiencing homelessness are disabled and face the obstacles I’ve described above every day.

My weakness is my secret weapon.

“9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-11



Washing The Feet Of Skid Row – Thanksgiving Outreach 2013


“Wait till you see my feet… you won’t be smiling no more!” the man chuckled with his lips curling into a smile.

The wrinkles on his face betrayed his young age. The volunteer laughed warmly as she started to remove his discolored, worn-down sneakers — if you could call them shoes. Beyond broken in, the darkly crusted laces puffed out a cloud of dust as she began to untie them.

She pulls off his grey socks — once white — and she carefully places his feet into the washing bin. He flinches, unused to the touch of clean water swell around his toes, but finally begins to relax — restfully placing his interlocked fingers onto his belly.


Armed with gloves, soap, and a lot of love, she gently washes away weeks — maybe even months — of grime and grit. There isn’t any hesitation in her motions as she calmly continues to pour pitchers of water over the crooks and crannies of his feet. Focused, her eyes gleam with grace the stranger in front of her is probably not used to. Grace on Skid Row is always at a premium.


They continue to engage in conversation as she dries his feet off with a fresh towel. This was her first time volunteering at the Mission and he has been around Skid Row for one too many nights. If you had removed the wash bin, you would have thought they’d been friends for ages — the authentic tone in their voices erased the reality of the circumstances.

“Can I pray for you?” she asks.

He shyly mumbles some words I couldn’t overhear, and it was probably for the best — sacred moment are better left untainted. She lifts up some words of prayer and stands to retrieve one of the UCLA podiatrists on call. Equally as friendly as the volunteer, the physician and the supporting medical students begin to ask questions to ascertain the overall health of the man’s feet.


While running through a battery of different tests, the medical students offer the man useful tips on how he can maintain better foot health. With each piece of advice, his furrowed brow lifts with more and more understanding. They offer fresh new socks — a luxury — and direct him to the section where he would be given new shoes.


Many of these unique stations were trickled around our parking lot, as our Thanksgiving Outreach tries to give those living on the dangerous streets of Skid Row a comprehensive list of items necessary to get through another day. To the left of the foot washing station, other volunteers were handing out toiletries — shampoo, toothpaste, and the like, much to the delight of those in line.


For those needing legal counsel, a group from Loyola Marymount University set up a booth to hear the struggles of the homeless with so little hope left in their pockets. The lawyers-turned-listeners each carried a packet of tissues, as tears would frequently roll down the faces of those airing out their troubles. The lawyers repay those tears with hope and many left those tables with a definite change in their countenance. Someone had heard their story, and they were equipped with the knowledge to do something about it.


A Persian group from Palos Verdes was eager to serve Skid Row’s denizens a filling meal of chicken, salad, and fruit. Like clockwork, this group would take the meal ticket provided to each person in line and produced a box filled to the brim with food, sending a few back inside to reload when needed.

Today was not the day people would go hungry.


As the event was coming to a close, I couldn’t help but notice the booth at the center of our parking lot. Sitting behind the table sat two men, twirling pencils in their hands. In front of them were stacks of blank papers accompanied with the sign — Cartoons.

They had spent the whole morning volunteering their time drawing caricatures of anyone who would want one. Young and old would line up, and each would seek me out to take their picture — to capture a screenshot of their joy. Sometimes it isn’t enough to just give people “necessities”, but giving them something as superfluous as a caricature goes a long way.


Something about offering your gifts, whether if it’s legal advice, medical work, cartooning, or even just giving up your Saturday morning, made me contemplate the true meaning of being thankful. And much of that was present — thankfulness was present in the servants and the served.

None of this work would be possible without the good work and donations that people like you cheerfully give to Union Rescue Mission. This day was just one of 365 days that helps make the Mission a light in the darkness.

The Government May Have Shut Down, But Union Rescue Mission Continues To Run!


If you have been watching the news, the United States Federal Government has been shut down. But Union Rescue Mission (URM) continues its operation because we do not rely on any type of government funding. For over 122 years, we have relied on funds and gifts-in-kind procured from generous individuals, foundations, businesses, and churches. We are also blessed to see thousands of volunteers gift their time for the countless needs of the Mission.

Each year URM provides more than 750,000 meals, 250,000 nights of shelter, and 15,000 free health and legal clinic sessions to the precious souls living on Skid Row. For the men who want to rebuild their lives we offer our Christian Life Discipleship Program: an intense, in-depth 12 month plan focused on transforming their entire lives—to ultimately become independent and successful members of their communities.

Especially in this uncertain time, it will take all of our resources to continue to offer our comprehensive service and life transformative programs.
As the end of the shutdown is not in sight, we expect more and more people to come through our doors – but we pray and hope that we will continue to receive the private donations needed to help the broken and lost people of Skid Row.

URM collaboration with TheHamper


Homelessness has a face…

And it might not be the face you imagine. It’s a mom struggling to feed her kids. A man who lost his job. It affects Mothers. Fathers. Sons. Daughters. Brothers. Sisters. It could be you or me. And it’s up to us all to help end the tragedy of homelessness.

For over 120 years, Union Rescue Mission has served men, women and children experiencing homelessness. URM provides comprehensive emergency and long-term services to their guest to help them escape the dangerous streets of Skid Row.

By purchasing a shirt this week from The Hamper, you are helping to provide meals, shelter and life-changing services to those who are experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. Bring hope and healing to a changed life – help someone find their way home today!

Visit www.thehamper.org to view the rest of the collection!


The Mission Newsletter – July 2013


All my life, I felt alone, isolated, like I never really fit anywhere. Even in my own family. Instead of connecting with friends, I retreated into a world of art and fantasy. From the age of 3 or 4, I would spend hours, or even days, drawing characters, making up stories, living in a world that existed only in my head and in my art.

My parents didn’t understand and tried many different ways to change me. So as a teenager, I rebelled — dabbling with LSD, mescaline, mushrooms, whatever I could get my hands on. Hallucinogens brought my art to life. And I loved it. Before long, I was eating 50 to 100 hits a day.

Then I found crystal meth. And that was it. Meth enabled me to focus on my art at a whole new level. Not only that, I could draw for three days straight, until my body would collapse from exhaustion. But I craved it.

Somehow, in all that insanity, I got married in my early 20s. My wife even gave birth to two sons. But both were born with serious health problems. My first son was born with DiGeorge Syndrome, kind of a cross between autism and Down Syndrome. My second son was born with an incurable heart condition and I had to make the heart-breaking decision to take him off life support. When he died, so did my marriage.

The Loneliness of Homelessness

After that, everything fell apart. My wife fell into prostitution and heroin addiction. My surviving son ended up with my wife’s aunt. And I ended up living on the streets for the next seven years, isolated and alone, disconnected from everyone but my drug dealers.

But as I grew lonelier and more exhausted, I wanted to change. That’s when I came to Union Rescue Mission. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but when I walked inside the building, the compassion and love I felt brought me to tears. I felt known, like everyone here could see me — the real me. I wasn’t alone anymore. And something about that made me want to be the best man I could be.

The Real Me

I gave my life to Jesus that first day and I have never craved drugs since. I took advantage of every service the Mission offered, from health and dental care, to counseling and spiritual care. They met every need I had. And I have never felt so alive physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve rebuilt relationships with my family, and even my son. And, I returned to school, and I’m now working full-time as a graphic artist.

I never knew this kind of life was possible, and I never would have experienced it apart from Union Rescue Mission. Because the people here were willing to show me compassion and love me, I am a real person now. URM didn’t give me my life back. The truth is, I never had a life. What I can say is, thanks to URM, I now have a life.


13URM07NL URM July 13 NL_Pkg.inddMen and women trapped in homelessness often have significant barriers to overcome before they can return to a productive life. Agencies like Union Rescue Mission offer structured, long-term recovery programs that have helped thousands of individuals and families address and overcome their obstacles and return to the community as productive citizens.

To learn more about our 10-Step plan please click here


Andy eNL

Notes from Andy

Healing the Past — Building for the Future

Brian, who tells his story in this issue of The Mission, is one of those guys who’s so sharp and “with it,” it’s hard to imagine why he lived the life he did. But in many ways, he reminds me of my son Isaac.

Like Brian, Isaac struggled through adolescence. It wasn’t easy for him to be my son, and for many years he walked a different path than I would have. Honestly, I spent those years parenting from my knees — praying. But like Brian, Isaac found his way. And today, Brian and Isaac are both fine young men.

Transforming lives like Brian’s is what Union Rescue Mission is all about. We embrace people experiencing homelessness with the compassion of Christ, offering them hope and healing, and helping them find their way home. We help them heal the physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds that led them here in the first place, through counseling, legal aid, medical and dental care, and spiritual nurturing. But then we also offer them building blocks, like education and job training, to help them construct brand new lives.

Body. Mind. Soul. Spirit. It’s what our Mission is all about. But it’s not just our Mission. It’s yours, too. You are the Mission. And nothing happens here apart from you. Thank you.



Rev. Andy Bales


At this time last year I did not believe I would be blogging about Thanksgiving in 2011.  On November 20th after a busy night of deep-frying 200 turkeys from 11p.m. until dawn at Union Rescue Mission in preparation for our big Thanksgiving event, my kidneys failed and for a few weeks I wasn’t sure I would make it.  I certainly believed I would have to retire and go on disability, as I signed up and began the necessary testing process to determine if kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant were options I could consider.  My world was turned upside down.

However, with some encouraging words by Dr. Nirmal Kumar that I needed to “work until I dropped”, strong support from my wife and the Board of Directors & team at URM, tripling of my medication, drinking two glasses of water with a tea spoon of baking soda each day, and going on a strict low phosphorous and low potassium diet, mostly made up of vegetables, fruits and water, along with several rounds of shots of Procrit to boost my red blood cells and rid me of dizziness I was experiencing, my kidney function has improved from 15% to 24%, moving me far away from dialysis for the time being.

I’ve not only improved remarkably in kidney function, but I’ve lost 34 lbs, my red blood cell count has improved  and my cholesterol is so good that hopefully the  blockage in my heart and arteries is being reduced!  I’ve tightened the control of my type 1 diabetes to the point that my tests almost ring true of a normal healthy person!

This strict regimen is the only way for me, as I’ve been dropped off the transplant list.  It seems that I cannot get a transplant until I have an angioplasty to remove a blockage in my heart, and the dye put into my body for the angioplasty would destroy the rest of my kidney function. So I am stuck in a bit of a quandary, but I’ve decided to stay on the strict diet and regimen, and keep doing this work that I love so much.

I haven’t had a diet soda, chocolate, cheese, dairy of any kind, chips, potatoes, and my favorite sweet potatoes or baked beans in nearly 1 year, but it is easy to follow a diet when it keeps you alive and doing the work that you love!

I lost a dear friend this week, a hero of mine, who fell ill at the same time that I did last year.  I don’t fully understand God’s grace to me through this difficult time, but I am so thankful.  My wife shared with me last week, “that we have so much to be thankful for!”

So, again this year I will be up with the URM team, strong, and deep-frying 200 turkeys overnight on Friday and early Saturday morning, preparing to feed 4500 precious friends at our big Thanksgiving event at URM.  And to top it off, I’m feeling well enough to spend the night on the streets with my precious friends tonight to raise awareness of the plight of our neighbors experiencing homelessness. The honor of serving in this ministry and spending time with my family and friends has driven me to do what it takes to survive, and I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Thanks, again, for your faithful prayers!

Setback But Not Deterred

November 2010 - Skid Row Clean & Quiet

Something dreadful is happening on Skid Row in Los Angeles, and it seems no one is taking notice or talking about it. I guess I will be one of the first. Most of the incredible work done from 2005-2010 by the community to restore hope, bring order, and reduce the numbers of precious people living on the streets has been reversed over the last 12 months.  After Steve Lopez and the LA Times published Life on The Streets, much needed overdue attention came to LA’s Skid Row, and the number of people on the street was reduced from 2000 to 600.

In the last 12 months the number of people on the streets of LA’s Skid Row has grown from 888 one year ago, to 1662 on the street last week according to the Central Division of LAPD, and crime has risen.

I attribute this to 3 major factors: the worsening economy bringing high unemployment and a lack of services to people in need, the one size fits all move to Housing First which has caused the limited resources available to move away from emergency services and to permanent supportive housing only, and the recent federal court ruling in favor of LACAN which protects the property of people experiencing homelessness to the extreme point that any type of clean up of Skid Row by anyone is not allowed.

Current Condition of Skid Row

Click on this link to take a quick poll and let us know if you think it should be illegal to remove abandoned property from Skid Row


We’ve seen no reprieve since the Great Recession hit hard in October of 2008, as the tsunami of families and individuals continues to pour into Skid Row and into Union Rescue Mission.  Each hot day that we take cold bottles of water out on the streets, we can see newbies, brand new arrivals to Skid Row walking along in a state of shock, as they’ve either lost their  home, their temporary bed, or have been recently released from prison without any substantial support system or any hope of employment.  I believe the only solution for this is a jobs program similar to the WPA and CCC of the Great Depression era that kept families like my own father’s working and alive as they lived in a tent in Azusa Canyon while my granddad helped build the Azusa Canyon Dam.

The move to Housing 1st is a key to ending homelessness among chronically homeless individuals and veterans, and added to other strategies could be a very good thing for the 10 to 20% of people experiencing homelessness who are indeed chronically suffering on the streets. But instead of adding this strategy to others, proponents of Housing 1st have made it a singular focus, one size fits all approach, and garnered the support of government officials, foundations, and corporations, causing a shift of resources away from the services that support 80% of the people experiencing homelessness.  This has caused many service providers to shrink services or disappear completely, leaving more people than ever out on the mean streets while the limited few who can be served by Housing 1st are saved from the streets.   I believe this has greatly added to the number of people on Skid Row, and while the few are served by Housing 1st, many within the other 80% who drop into homelessness, including children, are left unserved, and will become the chronically homeless of tomorrow, in effect adding to the homeless numbers rather than ending homelessness, as Housing 1st advocates intended.  We needed a both/and approach, continuing emergency services while adding permanent supportive housing to the continuum of care, http://youarethemission.org, not a dropping of emergency services and shifting of all resources to Housing 1st!  Permanent supportive is one of the many steps needed to end homelessness, not the one solution to ending homelessness.  Many may disagree, but the numbers speak for themselves.  The number of people on Skid Row has doubled since the shift of resources to Housing 1st.

Finally, LACAN activists, who seem determined to keep Skid Row, Skid Row, played a key role in shaping a Federal Court ruling that now bars anyone from picking up left behind items from Skid Row.  Believing the pendulum had swung too far in police and street crew clean-ups of abandoned property belonging to people experiencing homelessness, the Federal Court, according to police, did not even consider both sides of the argument and ruled that no one can clean up the streets of Skid Row lest they wrongfully remove the property of persons experiencing homelessness.  This has left piles of debris on the sidewalks, human waste now intermingled in the piles of debris creating a health hazard, and according to Captain Chamberlain of the LAPD, “has taken Skid Row back 10 years!”  LACAN activists are even reportedly dropping off old computers and garbage at the debris piles to make a point!  It seems that a compromise for the sake of all is needed.  Perhaps the CCEA could store left behind property and a 3 day notice could be left at the site of the abandoned goods letting people know where they might find their property?

We’ve definitely suffered a setback in ending homelessness as we know it on Skid Row in Los Angeles, but we will not be deterred.  Union Rescue Mission has pledged to do all that we can to see less than 100 precious souls on the streets of Skid Row by June 2016.

Let your voice be heard on this.  Skid Row is in Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard’s district.  Go to https://roybal-allard.house.gov/Contact/ContactForm.htm to contact her.

Then please go to http://youarethemission.org to see how you can become involved.

Blessings, Andy B.