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!