“I never wanted nothin’ to do with God,” says Donald, a 60-year-old guest at Union Rescue Mission. “Growing up in South Central, my parents made me go to church, whether I wanted to go or not. But away from church, my stepdad would beat me with whatever he could get his hands on. I kept thinking, if God’s so loving, why do I got all these welts on my back?”
So Donald rebelled — stealing, “drugging,” and determined to do whatever he wanted to do, no matter who got hurt. And people did get hurt. When he was 19, he and some friends tried to “jack a dope house.” When a young girl startled him, he shot and killed her before he knew what was happening. He went to prison for almost 10 years.
Hopeless on Skid Row
“After I got out,” Donald recalls, “I went right back to dope and drinking. I robbed homes and even churches to support my drug habit. I was in and out of prison for the next 30 years.”
When he wasn’t in prison, he called an alley near Skid Row home. “You don’t want to know what life is like out there,” he says. “Skid Row is where you go when you got no more hope. This is where folks come when they give up. Then these streets put you in the grave. People get killed all the time here. Just yesterday, I saw a dude get stabbed four times in the chest.
“Now that I’m sober, it hurts seeing all this stuff. Man, there’s gotta be a better life.”
“I Can’t Do This Anymore”
Donald finally decided to pursue that “better life” in April 2015. “I was straight-out tired,” he explains. “My cousin invited me to go to Union Rescue Mission. When I got here, I told God, ‘I can’t do this anymore. Help me.’ It was God’s way or no way.”
The change was drastic. “All the fighting, cussing, and stealing, I gave it up and let God do what He does. He died for me. He forgave me. I felt like the whole world lifted off me.”
Today, Donald works in URM’s hygiene area, where people come off the streets to take a shower and get cleaned up. “It feels good to help people who are just like I was,” he says. “But it’s not easy. One guy spit in my face. There was a time I would have killed him. And I wanted to. But I looked him in the eye and I said, ‘God loves you, man.’”
Summer heat, rising crime, and hopelessness are creating unimaginable suffering for men and women experiencing homelessness on Skid Row. They desperately need help. But every summer, much-needed donations to Union Rescue Mission drop way off, threatening our ability to meet their needs.
Lives Change Here Because of YOU!
by L.A.P.D. Officer Deon Joseph
A few years ago as I was patrolling Skid Row, I found a man rummaging through a trash can. His skin was covered with scabies, and his hair was matted and filled with lice. He was wanted, and when I arrested him, he cursed me and called me every horrible name imaginable.
As a police officer, I wasn’t supposed to do this: I gave him a poem called “You Are Not a Failure” and another one called “A Supernatural Life.” I later learned that, after he left jail, he got into a program like Union Rescue Mission’s and completely transformed his life. Today, he’s got a successful career and family.
The Inhumanity of Skid Row
I didn’t always believe that lives could change on Skid Row. And when you look at these streets today, it’s still hard to be optimistic. Skid Row is now the largest homeless encampment in America. Gangsters, loan sharks, hustlers, and predators prey on the people here, especially women, who now make up almost 45% of the population. In some parts of Skid Row, rapes have increased almost 200%. But everyone’s life is in danger. Aggravated assaults and street robberies are rapidly increasing. Life is worse than I’ve ever seen here — it’s tragic and inhumane to let it continue.
You Really Do Make a Difference
That’s why I’m so grateful for places like Union Rescue Mission and people like you who support them. As I said, I once didn’t believe that lives could change. But the first time I toured Union Rescue Mission, I saw dozens of people I had arrested, now clean, sober, filled with new life, and completely transformed. I determined that day I would do everything I can to support places like Union Rescue Mission, and to encourage everyone in Los Angeles to support them, too.
Not everyone’s life will change here. But many will. We just can’t give up. As people of faith, who believe in a caring God, we must keep trying. I never want to see another rape victim in a tent or dead man on the sidewalk. With your support of Union Rescue Mission, maybe I won’t have to.
Jack’s Story, 1941
Jack was young and attractive, with a successful career and loving wife — until he lost it all because of alcohol. Ashamed, he left home, leaving his wife a note that simply said he would return when he straightened up.
“Desperate, I wandered into Union Rescue Mission one night,” he recalls. “That evening, I heard a man testify how the grace of God, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, had transformed his life and restored his courage, hope, and self-respect. He said that if I repented, I could experience the same thing.
“That was my first ray of hope. I went forward to the altar, asked for God’s forgiveness and for His help to throw off the curse of drink and to send me back to my wife.”
God honored Jack’s prayer. In time, with newfound courage and self-respect, Jack returned to his former job, earned the respect of his employers, and went back home to his wife, who marveled at the change she saw in him.
Lives Change When We Work Together
The number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles today is overwhelming. The latest study says almost 47,000 men, women, and children have no home — though I believe it’s far higher. The number of single women on the streets has increased 55%, and family homelessness is exploding, with thousands of them living in tents, cars, and RVs.
Yet despite the increase, thousands of shelter beds have disappeared in Los Angeles over the past few years. So now, Union Rescue Mission is sheltering a record number of 1,050 people a night — and for the first time in our history, more than half of them are women and children. But we are still determined to never turn a woman or a family away.
In the face of so much tragedy, it would be easy to get discouraged. But I’m not. And neither should you be. Why? People like Donald whose story began this newsletter. You helped transform his life. We see similar stories repeated every day. Thousands of people experiencing homelessness have new life today because of the faithfulness of folks like you. When you and I both do our parts, lives change. Thanks be to God.
On June 15th, the Precious Dreams Foundation blessed Union Rescue Mission Youth with a surprise visit from two NFL greats: Eric Dickerson and Ryan Grant.
This awesome gift of meeting, speaking and engaging with Eric and Ryan was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all present. The kids loved receiving the Precious Dreams Foundation gift bags as well as having the chance to get autographs from these two football legends. Our children and staff were grateful and humbled by such a gift of love.
Eric Dickerson played for the Rams, Colts, Raiders and Falcons, winning 6 Pro Bowls among a myriad of other highlights and awards. Ryan Grant played for the Giants, Packers and Redskins, winning the Super Bowl in 2011 with the Green Bay Packers.
We were thrilled when Los Angeles recognized the State of Emergency of Skid Row and prioritized the issue of homelessness. It is absolutely an epidemic right now. The time is past due to allocate resources to the problem.
Unfortunately, the money just hasn’t shown up. I know it makes us feel great that we’re talking about a plan, or proposing a budget, but that doesn’t help the people dying on the street tonight. This emergency was declared six months ago and we’re still talking about what we’re going to do next year or over the next five years.
We’ve gone from 44,000 people experiencing homelessness to 47,000 people, an increase of almost 6%. Of that 3,000 more people, 40% are single women. Now, more than ever, we need to find a place to shelter these vulnerable people, yet more and more shelters are closing their doors. We lost over 2,000 shelter and transitional beds county-wide.
Since last year, the numbers on the streets have increased and over 40% of that growth is single women. We are going backwards.
At Union Rescue Mission, women and children outnumber men for the first time ever and we’re sheltering over 1,000 people each night. Since 2013, there has been a 55% increase in women experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. We need more options now so women are not stuck on mean streets of Skid Row or anywhere in our city. My heart won’t rest as long as women and children are on the streets. We, Union Rescue Mission, will not rest as long as women and children are on the streets. With your help, while others talk we will continue to step up.
Please consider giving a gift during our Matching Gift Challenge and make an impact on the lives of those experiencing homelessness that have come to Union Rescue Mission. Any gift you give will be matched 100% by our anonymous donors.
11RESCUE those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
Some Missions are dropping the word Rescue from their title. A marketing executive recently suggested that Union Rescue Mission consider the same. He felt the term painted a picture of an old school mission providing only 3 hots and a cot along with a Gospel message. A former associate viewed the term as paternalistic and archaic, but I dare to disagree.
Union Rescue Mission will keep the important word Rescue in our name. No mission has proven to be more innovative, guest affirming and non paternalistic over the years than URM.
Over 29 years ago I joined a mission in Des Moines, Iowa and one of the first things I did was to make the chapel voluntary after the meal rather than compulsory before the meal. Attendance not only held steady but those in attendance were no longer physically hungry and had an increased appetite for spiritual food. History shows that happening at about the same time at URM in LA.
URM refers to all who live here as guests.
URM invites guests to reside at the mission 24/7/365-to be in guest area, or rest in their bunks-no coming in at night, leaving after breakfast and wandering the streets all day.
Guests keep their bed until they find a more permanent home-no 30 or 60 day revolving door. In fact, we are on pace to have 824 guests move into permanent housing this year. This number does not include our recovery programs, which would put the number closer to 1000.
We affirm our guests dignity by inviting them to stay free for 15 days then choose recovery or join Gateway program and pay a part of their own way, set up a personal savings plan, keep their valuables in a locked storage area under their bunks, volunteer throughout URM, maintain sobriety and participate in our clinics and jobs program. We have great respect and high expectations of our guests.
Our hope for everyone is a life transformed, followed by a job, followed by a permanent home. That is the focus of our intense recovery programs. However, we’ve set up sober permanent housing options for single men and women and soon families just in case a return to a job and complete independence is not possible.
URM is Christ and guest centered; each day we strive to listen to Our Lord and our guests and to do even better.
I know Rescue sounds like there is one rescuer and one to be rescued, which may sound paternalistic and there is a need for humility on the part of the rescued.
But humility isn’t a bad thing. It may save your life.
Awhile back, I was body boarding at Newport Beach in big waves. I didn’t realize at the time, but I guess a riptide was carrying me out to sea. A bright yellow life guard boat pulled up and told me to get in the boat. I declined. “I’ve got this. I’m a strong swimmer.”
Lifeguard, “No you don’t, you’re heading out to sea. You have no chance unless you had swim fins on. Get in the boat.”
I humbly(humiliated) climbed in the boat.
When I got back to the beach, my wife and kids were laughing at me, reliving the moment when they realized it was their big tough dad being rescued by the handsome young life guard. I was indeed, humiliated, but I was alive, and from then on, wore a pair of swim fins. :)
It is difficult to walk in the doors of a rescue mission. It is a place of last resort. It is difficult to ask for or accept help. It absolutely requires a level of humility, brokenness, to be rescued, to be restored, to get your swim fins, so to speak, for life’s big waves. It definitely helps when the rescuer is also humble, understands your predicament and welcomes you while affirming your dignity. There is no shame and there should be no shame in asking for help.
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4 RESCUE the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
-Psalms 82:3 – 4
“For most of my life, the world viewed me as trash,” says Gary, 57. “But God used Union Rescue Mission to make me a treasure, and to show the world what He can do with someone like me.”
Gary grew up in poverty, the son of a struggling mother who had difficulty providing for her family. “We never had what the other kids had,” he recalls. “They dressed nicer than we did. I guess that affected my self-esteem.”
By high school, Gary was snatching purses, burglarizing homes, stealing cars, and gambling on the streets. Then his brother introduced him to crack cocaine. He was immediately hooked, and his life spiraled even more out of control. Between 1998 and 2012, he was constantly in and out of prison. And when he wasn’t in prison, he wasted his life away on Skid Row.
“I wanted to change,” he says. “I would see other people get clean, but I didn’t t
hink it would ever happen for me. Then one day around 1999, the Lord spoke to my spirit: ‘Satan’s trying to destroy you. But I got you.’”
It took 10 more years to see the fruit of God’s promise. In 2009, Gary surrendered his life to Jesus Christ in prison. Before long, he was leading Bible studies and preaching in chapel services, and he even felt God’s call to one day go into ministry.
When Gary was released from prison in 2012, God led him straight to Union Rescue
Mission. “I needed a place to stay and I wanted to be in a stable Christian community,” he says. “The Mission fed me, gave me clothes, all of that. But the most important thing is,
they raised me up in the Word of God, and they gave me purpose and direction. The chaplains here modeled for me what ministry is all about.”
Soon Gary joined Central City Community Church, where he now serves as an assistant to
the pastor. He even got married for the first time in February 2013, and in July 2014, Union Rescue Mission hired Gary full-time to drive a truck for their new thrift store in Covina.
“I’m a truck driver,” he says. “I pick up used items that we sell at the thrift store. But it’s more than that. I know what I’m doing is going to benefit others and to God’s glory. So I drive my truck with joy, because I know I’m a part of this incredible ministry. I’m a part of something glorious and honoring to God.”
Real Jobs for Real People — Thanks to You!
by Glynn Coleman, Employment Skills Specialist
Many of the men and women who come to Union Rescue Mission have a spotty employment history, a lack of marketable job skills, and a history of felonies that can hurt their chances at gaining full-time employment and becoming self- sufficient. These precious people need more than meals and shelter, they need jobs. Real jobs.
And that’s where you come in. Your financial gifts and support to URM do far more than provide meals and shelter. Your gifts help transform lives and help prepare men and women experiencing homelessness with job-preparedness training, work skills, and even job opportunities with employers all over Los Angeles.
Thanks to you, our Employment Program has already helped more than 100 men and women find sustainable employment that has not only helped them support themselves, but often their families, as well.
Summer heat on Skid Row is dangerous for the men and women who call these streets home. They desperately need your help. Yet every summer, donations to Union Rescue Mission drop way off, threatening our ability to meet their needs. Your gift today will provide cold water, cool shelter, nutritious meals, and another day of hope to precious people who need your help the most this summer. So please send the most generous gift you can today. Thank you!
— Anytime it’s 85 degrees or hotter, we pass out cold bottled water on Skid Row. Water Walks take place Monday through Friday at 2:00 p.m. Text the word WATERWALK to 51555 to receive notifications for our next Water Walk.
Because of You!
In 2013, I ended up homeless with my two small children. It got so bad, we had to live in a tent for awhile. Then we came to Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens. Hope Gardens helped me give up alcohol and drugs, helped me get closer to God, and they helped me in so many other positive ways. Today, I’m still living at Hope Gardens, but I have a job now and soon I will move into my own place with my children. All I want is to be able to support my children, and thanks to Hope Gardens and generous friends like you, I’m able to do that now.
Notes From Andy
More than Meals
Struggling men and women who come to Union Rescue Mission seeking help need more than meals and shelter. They need more than sobriety. They need jobs. Real jobs.
I know one guy here at the Mission who came to us after a 20-year addiction. He’s clean, sober, and ready to go home. But he’s scared. What will happen to him when he leaves? He worries that if he can’t find work, if he can’t support himself with dignity and self-respect, he may end up right back where he started.
Thankfully, he’s now participating in our Employment Program and going to school. He knows we will provide him with the skills, the support, and the connections he needs. And we will walk with him every step of they way until he finds a much-needed job. But really it’s you. Your financial gifts to URM help provide men and women experiencing homelessness with training, work skills, and even job opportunities with employers all over Los Angeles.
A life transformed, followed by a job, followed by a home. That’s our strategy. But you’re the one who makes it happen.
Lost Angels Children’s Project founder Aaron Valencia is at it again! This year he is building a 1936 Ford Coupe to giveaway at the 13th annualVentura Nationals Custom Cars & Motorcycle Show on Saturday, September 5th.
Last year, the Lost Angels Children’s Project car build giveaway raised money to off-set the cost of the build plus donate $17,110 each to the youth department of Union Rescue Mission and Grace Resource Center.
This generous donation from Lost Angels Children’s project was used to buy washers and dryers for the families currently living at URM, recreational and fun activities, “Horses in the Hood” camp, afterschool supplies, school supplies, and other essential needs for our children, youth, and families!
This year, Aaron and his dedicated team are working even harder to raise more money and double what they raised last year! This can only happen with your help. Purchase a beautifully designed poster for $20 and you will automatically get free ticket to enter a chance to win the custom made 1936 Ford Coupe. There is NO limit on how many posters you can purchase.
The more you buy, the more chances you have to win the car and the more money raised for children who are experiencing homelessness.
To purchase your entry to win please contact Christine at (213) 347-6342 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To anyone else, it was just a silly child’s necklace, a worthless souvenir from Disneyland.
But for William, it was the last remaining memento of his 12-year-old son, whom he hadn’t seen in eight years. After a lifetime of broken relationships and abandonment, William felt alone and hopeless. First it was his mother, a troubled alcoholic who preferred the streets over her children. His grandmother was in and out of his life. He never knew his father, and after he married the woman of his dreams, she tragically died less than a year later.
“I was so depressed, I went into a tailspin and started drinking more and more. I really struggled,” William recalls. “Then I got married again, way too soon. I never dealt with my grief. And because of my drinking, I burned that relationship out in five years. But a wonderful thing came out of that marriage. My son, Judah.”
But two years after the marriage ended, William’s ex-wife disappeared with his son. “I lost all hope,” William says. “I started drinking all day, every day, and I ended up homeless. Over the next four years, I lost everything, all the reminders of my son.”
Everything but a necklace. William knew he needed help.
So in January 2013, he came to Union Rescue Mission. Over the next year, he poured himself into weekly counseling sessions with Chaplain Mike McIntire, 12-step classes, Bible studies, and prayer. As he got closer to God and his burdens slowly lifted, William began to see the same hurt he had felt in the eyes of the other men at the Mission. So he began loving and ministering to them. Before long, he no longer felt alone.
Yet he never stopped praying to see his son again. “Then one day, out of the blue, my son found me on Facebook,” William says. “I finally got my son back.”
In fact, on Easter Sunday 2015, Judah, now 12, visited William at Union Rescue Mission. At the sunrise service, as they celebrated Christ’s resurrection and new life in Him, William turned to Judah and gave him the necklace he’d carried for eight years.
“This necklace means the world to me, son,” he said. “This is what kept me going, even in the midst of my addiction and all my running away from God, from all my relationships, and even from myself. It’s all I had left of you. Take care of this for the rest of your life.”
It was just a child’s necklace. But it saved a father’s life.
I love William’s story. As a chaplain at Union Rescue Mission, I see men like him everyday — men wounded from broken relationships with friends, family, and with God. Sometimes those wounds are consequences of bad choices they’ve made. Other times, the broken relationships are suffered from no fault of their own.
But one thing is clear: People don’t end up on Skid Row because of drugs and alcohol. They end up here because of some kind of relationship trauma they’ve never recovered from. In fact, the single biggest common denominator I see among addicted and homeless men and women is the overwhelming grief they feel at being completely alone.
But you and I know they’re NOT alone. They’re not alone because there’s a God who loves them. They’re not alone because we surround them with unconditional love and friendship. They’re not alone because compassionate people like YOU care.
If men and women come here wounded by broken relationships, they heal through loving ones. And thanks to your giving hearts, hurting and broken people who come to Union Rescue Mission have the time and space they need to build new relationships and reconcile old ones — especially in families.
Everyone who comes here is someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, son, or daughter. So every time you invest in someone here, you do far more than help to restore a life. You help heal and restore entire families — healing that will offer hope for generations to come.
Notes From Andy
Loved and Accepted
I bet if you were to survey 100 people here on the streets of Skid Row about what led them here, 93% would say a broken relationship. Whether that relational trauma led to some kind of mental health issues or led to their addiction issues, they’ve never healed from the grief and pain. So by the time they come to Union Rescue Mission, they have nowhere left to go and no one else to turn to.
But that’s where you come in. With your support, we encourage them to trust again and risk building new relationships. We teach them how to overcome grief and loss, how to overcome anger, how to overcome addiction, and how to turn to the Lord for help. And that’s most important, because when they have a relationship with their Lord, they are embraced by the only perfect Father.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people go through our program and return home to start over as healthy parents, sons or daughters, brothers or sisters. We all need to be loved and accepted. There is no greater joy than seeing that happen. But it happens here, because caring people like you make it happen.
Six years ago, we at Union Rescue Mission put together 10 Steps To Address Homelessness in LA. We hoped to start a movement called Youarethemission.com to spur our friends to action. As I read these steps today I realize they may be more timely now than ever, especially in Los Angeles.
Here is the 1st step, although today I might say & write; Change the heart of LA by changing the way we speak about people experiencing homelessness.
Step 1: Change the way we think and talk about people experiencing homelessness.
Too often we describe or label people as “the homeless” or “addicts” or “transients.” These are precious people, made in the image of God, who are currently experiencing homelessness. People should never be defined or labeled exclusively by their current condition. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters. When we label people, we don’t see their potential and the possibilities within them. When we look the other way and ignore people, we dehumanize them and diminish their value. We need to look into our own hearts, change our thinking, and learn to recognize that “there, but for the grace of God, go I,” then ask, “What can I do?”Only then can we make a difference.
I am so honored, we are so honored our friends at our marketing agency, Grizzard, have put this idea & words into a powerful video.
We believe this change of heart, change of words, will spur us to take action, not only in LA, but throughout our country. I’ll be revisiting the 10 steps in my next few blogs. You can check them out now at youarethemission.com
For me, family is everything. It’s how I grew up. My parents, my brothers and sisters, we were close. It’s the kind of family I wanted when I could one day have a family of my own.
I was a teenager when I fell in love with the mother of my kids. We had two children together and everything seemed on track — until we got addicted to crystal meth.
After our relationship ended a few years later, I was devastated. I not only lost my relationship with her, I lost my kids. I lost my lifelong dream of a loving family. I’d failed — and it hurt. It hurt so bad I had to numb myself with more meth and alcohol. It’s the only way I could forget. For the next 15 years, I worked and partied. I never got close to a woman again. It was just too painful.
That all changed in March 2013.
I met a woman, a meth addict like me, but we fell in love almost overnight. And like me, she wanted to get off the merry-go- round of meth. Unfortunately, neither of us knew how.
Worse, I was unemployed. And by summer, we were homeless on the streets of San Bernardino, living in a tent by a riverbed. Everything we owned was stuffed in shopping carts.
It was crazy out there, and dangerous. But at least we had each other, 24/7. And we did whatever we had to do to survive. We both knew it had to end, though. One day I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I left her to find a recovery program to get off drugs. When I couldn’t find one in San Bernardino, I almost gave up. But that’s when a friend told me about Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles.
I came the next day. Within two days, I felt connected to God in a way I never had before. That completely changed my life. Then I found out my girlfriend also got into a drug program in Long Beach! Since then, everything’s coming together. I’m not only sober, I’ve reconnected with my kids again and I’m determined to be a good father to them. All the anger and guilt I felt just washed away. I also entered school to become a chef. And now my girlfriend and I are talking about getting married and starting a family. Thanks to caring people like you who support Union Rescue Mission, maybe I’ll get to experience the family I always wanted after all.
Notes From Andy
It’s Not Ok.
SKID ROW’S filthy, dangerous sidewalks and back-alleys are home to as many as 3,400 men, women, and children, struggling to survive in a world of predators and prostitutes, murderers and molesters, victims and victimizers.
They arrive here from every city and region in Los Angeles County and beyond. Some come seeking services and much-needed help. Others are sent here from communities that don’t want them anymore — but they’re not sending them here to get help. They’re sending them here to live and die.
There are so many hurting people on these streets we can no longer meet the demand. Every shelter is filled to capacity. Yet more keep coming every day.
I’m embarrassed and ashamed — and as a supporter of Union Rescue Mission, I know you are, too. As Steve Lopez recently wrote in the L.A. Times, “You keep waiting for someone to show up and say wait a minute, this is not OK.”
Well, I’m saying it now. It’s not OK. And it has to stop.