Alternatives to Tent Cities in this Emergency Situation

The news has been scary lately with so many people in trouble due to our economy. At ground zero here on Skid Row in Los Angeles the reality is even more incredible. Real unemployment in Los Angeles is at nearly 21% according to Jack Kaiser of the Los Angeles Economic Corporation. It is no wonder then that families coming to Union Rescue Mission are up over 340% since last year, and our meals are up 32% from 18 months ago.

47% of the families needing shelter throughout the city are homeless for the first time ever in their lives.

And it’s not just Los Angeles, it’s everywhere. I was contacted by a friend of Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, a former NBA great, asking me what could be done about the tent cities springing up in Sacramento and around our country. Sacramento’s tent city has grown to 1200 people and there is talk of demolishing it. But that will not solve the problem.

I have come up with a plan, and though I can’t say that it originated with me, I believe that it is a tremendous alternative to letting folks sleep on the streets or in tents. First of all, the Governor should declare a state of emergency and ask that all armories be opened to house people as we do in the Winter Shelter months. Non-profits like Union Rescue Mission and our EIMAGO public benefits charity should be commissioned to operate them. We could provide emergency housing for 200 people each night, along with meals, a cot, a shower, and bathroom facilities for $1.2 million per armory a year.

Secondly, I received this note from a friend concerning a dream of hers. She told me, “One morning I awoke about 5:30 am to the words, ‘Hotels will be given to house the homeless, restaurants will be given to feed the hungry.’” I considered her dream—the empty hotels/motels in our area that are struggling to do business, and the nearly abandoned restaurants on the brink of closing. Then I thought of the tsunami of families coming our way seeking assistance and experiencing homelessness for the first time in their lives. What if we exchanged hotel/motel vouchers and restaurant vouchers for a small fee? Whatever a family could afford to pay, we put roofs over the heads of children and good food in their bellies while at the same time assisting the hotel and restaurant businesses in keeping their doors open and their employees working. We could provide case management to assist the families in pursuing permanent housing and employment. For those without a partnering family to turn to as they struggle through this ordeal, we could connect them with a church family to encourage them along the way. Some churches could possibly even step up and provide a gym for housing or an empty apartment that they could sponsor. Could we as a city, state, and country find it in our hearts to join in a bit of a bail out program for desperate families—along with some accountability and dignity to boot?

I want to encourage all in authority that this is an increasing emergency situation and needs an emergency response. We should not allow anyone, especially children to experience the devastating effects of homelessness.

Blessings, Andy B

Take a moment to watch this report from NBC Nightly News about Sacramento’s tent cities.

Weathering the Storm

It is hard for me to describe how proud I am of the URM team and the honor I feel in working alongside them. This year we have faced overwhelming odds. Our numbers of single guests are up significantly, at least 25%. Our number of meals served has grown from around 750,000 last year to an incredible number of more than 1,000,000 meals for the 1st time in URM 118 year history! We now have 59 families with 111 children at our downtown URM facility, with another 32 families and 62 children at URM’s Hope Gardens Family Center in Sylmar. We have already had an astounding 113 families in the first two months of our Winter Shelter Program compared to 35 families in the entire 3 ½ months of last year’s Winter Shelter Season. Yet our staff is not only holding up, but exceeding the need of people who are coming through our doors, desperate for help. Our staff has even adjusted to the new challenge of housing families in EDAR units (see in our chapel, and we are expecting many more families to do so.

I am honored because our staff is doing this with less resources, less food donations, and during a time when the economy has forced us to freeze hiring, freeze wage increases and suspend the employer matching portion of their 401-K retirement plans. I’ve also had to alert them to a potential 5% pay cut across the board, and still they carry on with joy. Challenged to become a Hero of Hope this morning in our weekly Chapel service, more than a dozen employees immediately marched to the Human Resources office and signed up to have a donation automatically given to the Mission from their paychecks every payday in the future. All this, despite the possible impending wage cuts. I have to tell you, that I am amazed!

Partly amazed because I see many National, State, County, and City officials stunned, stymied, almost paralyzed by the gravity of the emergency situation as we face a Tsunami of families facing homelessness. I am thankful for URM and agencies and ministries stepping up to meet the need, and I am honored to be part of this team.