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,, 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 to contact her.

Then please go to to see how you can become involved.

Blessings, Andy B.

Andy’s End of Month Update – February 2011

It’s hard to believe March is already here – this year is going by so quickly! Things are remaining busy at URM and Hope Gardens. To hear about all the happenings this past month, please click above to watch the February update.

While the need for URM’s services has increased, our giving has dropped. If you are able to give a gift of any size, please consider donating to us today. We are grateful for your support.


Andy Bales, CEO

P.S. If you would like to receive my daily Easter devotionals through Lent, please go to to sign up.

Stories from Skid Row: The Nativity

Each night, an average of 145 kids call Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens Family Center home. And thanks to help from friends like you, we have rescued over 1,800 precious children from living on the streets of Skid Row in the last 2 years. Kiera is one of these adorable children. We hope you will take a moment to watch her tell the Christmas Story in her own words!

No one deserves to suffer the devastation of homelessness, especially during the holidays. Thank you for your continued support in helping us serve each and every person who comes to our doors.

Help Portrait Comes to URM

For many people experiencing homelessness, taking a family portrait each Christmas, or having a professional take a photo of themselves is a luxury they can’t afford.  But thanks to Help Portrait, an organization that brings professional photographers together to use their photography skills to give back to their local community, this luxury was made feasible and hundreds of people were able to receive beautiful portraits.

On Saturday, December 4th, Union Rescue Mission was one of several locations that photographers gathered to bless the people of Skid Row by taking beautiful photos, and printing them on the spot for free!

There were several backdrops to choose from, including a large Christmas tree with presents under it. A “Kids Station” was set up with crafts and coloring. All in all, it was a great day that brought joy to many people.

Take a look at the Channel 11 News clip below to see some of people that were touched by this fun and generous event!

The Mission – November 2010

Growing Up Fast

By Jocelyn

My family never celebrated Christmas much. There were never many presents or Christmas trees. While all my friends loved Christmas, for me it was just a time to get through. Christmas is hard when your parents don’t have any money.

We were constantly moving to wherever my parents could find jobs or cheaper rent. I was born in Lynnwood and I’ve also lived in Santa Ana, Bell, Compton, Bell Gardens, and every place in between. I never knew anything called “Home Sweet Home”.

It never really bothered me until I got into middle school. As soon as I made friends, I’d have to say goodbye. So I never had any real close relationships, and that bothered me a lot. Sometimes it gets to me so much I let all my anger out on my mom.

We were never homeless, though, until two years ago. My dad had started his own business with a partner, and it was going pretty good until the economy got bad and my dad’s partner got into trouble with the police. The business fell apart and we had to move into a motel, then a shelter in Glendale, then in another motel, and finally my dad brought us to Union Rescue Mission.

It hurts being homeless, especially on Skid row. I hear violent threats, and see adults doing things no kid should have to see. I used to blame God. I wondered why He hated us so much. My mom would go to church, but I wouldn’t go. Why should I go pray to God when He’s done this to me and my family? But I think I know why, now. Ever since we came to Union Rescue Mission, my family has been getting closer to God and to each other. We’ve had to learn to depend on God and to be strong for each other. And I’m learning to quit whining and blaming other people – or God – and to man-up and help out.

I’m only 15, but I’m looking for a job to help my parents. In the meantime, I’m selling bus tokens and collecting cans and other items that we can recycle for extra cash. I hope this Christmas we’ll be in a new home. But no matter where we are, I know we’ll be ok. After all, Jesus was born in a stable – but He changed the whole world. The Christmas story has taught me that I can’t lose hope. I may not see a miracle right away, but I’m going to do whatever God asks. Maybe this it eh best Christmas gift of all. Thanks to Union Rescue Mission, I’m growing up.

Christmas Can Be Special…Anywhere. By Latonya

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I love spoiling my five boys. When my husband and I both had good jobs, every Christmas I’d buy presents for them that piled up to the ceiling, everything brand new. But a few years ago, I lost my job and had to start working at a 99cents Store. My heart broke when my husband abandoned us in 2007, and in June 2008 I was in a car accident. I could no longer work.

Last Christmas was the worst ever. I’m thankful we had a roof over our heads, but we had no presents, no tree – we didn’t even have electricity or heat.

Then, last June I couldn’t even pay the rent anymore. Suddenly we found ourselves homeless. The only shelter in Los Angeles that would take boys the ages of mine was Union Rescue Mission. I know God has us here for a reason. Living here we’ve seen how many families are homeless just like us. And now my boys and I are determined that if we ever get the change, we want to help other families who are homeless.

This Christmas, I hope we’re living in our own place. But Union Rescue Mission has taught me that no matter where we are Christmas can be special. You don’t have to be rich or live in a mansion or a house. As long as my sons and I are together, loving one another, that’s all that matters.


My Christmas Wish

Christmas always reminds me that Jesus came to give everyone the chance to live a new life in a new and better world. But Christmas is the absolute toughest time of year for every precious soul experiencing homelessness. But it’s especially hard on young mothers and kids like Jocelyn. New life and a better world seem impossible for mothers and kids forced to spend Christmas on Skid Row. Every year, my personal Christmas wish is to bring as much joy, love, and dignity into their lives as possible. We bake the cookies, deck the halls, sing the noels, and even give them the chance to shop for one another at our annual Christmas Store.

But this holiday season I have an even bigger wish — to move every single mother and child here at Union Rescue Mission out of Skid Row and into our Hope Gardens Family Center or other housing far away from these mean streets. And it’s a wish already coming true, as we’re moving 14 more precious mothers and their children to Hope Gardens this month. And this Christmas, I pray that each one rediscovers hope for a new life in a new and better world.


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A Long Awaited Missing Piece

I applaud, and we at Union Rescue Mission applaud the bold step by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Los Angeles in announcing a push to end chronic homelessness in Los Angeles through the building of permanent supportive housing both inside and outside of Skid Row.  This important move incorporates several of the steps outlined in the 10 Step Initiative to End Homelessness developed by Union Rescue Mission which we and announced on October 28th, 2009 including:

Step 8:

Provide Permanent Supportive Housing to People Who Need it Most

The best solution for many who have been devastated by long-term homelessness is permanent supportive housing.
SRO (Single Room Occupancy) Housing is already providing permanent supportive housing, strong management, and crucial services that address underlying issues faced by those who are devastated by the long term effects of homelessness. There are organizations that have provided permanent supportive housing, including comprehensive services, for the most chronic, most devastated men and women. But we need more to focus on this initiative.

Action Steps:

  • Encourage County Supervisors and City Council members to provide more permanent supportive housing, along with supportive services.
  • Join Union Rescue Mission or your local agency serving people experiencing homelessness reach out to men and women on the streets and help connect them to services and housing.
  • Mobilize your business, civic group, or faith community to engage and offer acts of kindness to men and women struggling with chronic homelessness.

Our crucial Step 4:

Localize the Solution To Homelessness

We must end the policy of dumping, corralling, and containing people who are struggling and experiencing homelessness.

Each city area should provide local services to their own neighbors who find themselves without a home. When invited, Union Rescue Mission and partnering agencies will consult, collaborate, and help develop regional satellites to local communities committed to seeking solutions to homelessness.

Action Steps:

  • Begin a movement to meet the need. Encourage your neighborhood or city council to address the need in your own community. This is everyone’s challenge and opportunity.
  • Encourage your community to open a winter or year-round shelter.
  • Encourage your city or faith community to provide assistance and affordable housing for low-income families and individuals.

And the key to moving this bold step by the Chamber and United Way in LA to fruition is:

Step 1:

Change The Way We Think & Speak 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 de-humanize them and diminish their value. We need to look into our own hearts, change our thinking, and learn to say, “But by God’s grace, there go I,” then ask, “What can I do?” Only then can we make a difference.

Action Steps:

  • Take time to get to know men, women, and children who are experiencing homelessness. Hear their stories, understand their struggles, and put a human face on this issue.
  • Train yourself to think and speak differently about people who are homeless.
  • Engage others in this discussion. Language shapes our thinking and when we change our language, we begin to see things from a different perspective.
  • Read books like Same Kind of Different as Me, A Heart For The City, When Helping Hurts, and other great books that help to open your eyes and heart to the needs of people experiencing homelessness.

One of my dear friends has been critical of United Way and the Chamber of Commerce jumping on board, asking, “Why is everyone so excited that two agencies long absent from serving people experiencing homelessness are now jumping on board?”  I, for one, would say that it is because the business community has long been the missing piece of the puzzle in ending this crisis.

Five years ago we were at a business event with many of the great business leaders of our city.  Steve Lopez, the brilliant writer for the LA Times and an amazing advocate for people experiencing homelessness, was being honored and there was a push made to help URM open up Hope Gardens Family Center, but only one downtown business stepped up that day to help us with a financial gift to make it happen. 

Los Angeles has been the reigning capital of homelessness for far too long, and we have needed and we need everyone on board to end the reign and make sure that there is not one precious person living on the streets of our great city.  Only then can we live up to our name, the City of Angels.

I am curious as to how the number $875 Million now spent on people experiencing chronic homelessness was arrived at?  I have asked for the printout, but have not received.  I am almost certain SSI and Social Security payments were not included, and they should not be, because those payments will not go away, but will hopefully be directed towards paying rent at the proposed permanent supportive housing.  We have introduced the Chamber to a tool that could help better direct the payments to this cause.  If by chance the number was derived by adding the total budgets of institutions and agencies like Union Rescue Mission that would be a mistake, because only part of our overall budget is directed towards the minority, the folks devastated by long term chronic homelessness, which is only 10% to 20% of the total population of precious people experiencing homelessness.  More than ½ of URM’s budget is directed towards the other 80% to 90%, the folks experiencing episodic or those experiencing homelessness for the 1st time — folks who are efficiently and effectively served by emergency services, life transformation programs, transitional housing, and rapid re-housing. 

One size does not fit all in this situation. It would be too costly to provide the capital for permanent supportive housing to 80% to 90% of the population of people in need.  And it would do a disservice to folks who with a little help are ready willing and able to get back on their feet and into the mainstream work force.  Inclusion of the costs of these programs into the $875 Million total would be a wrong attribution of cost in serving people experiencing chronic homelessness.  If the services to the 80% to 90% would go away, and move only to serve people who are suffering from chronic homelessness, leaving them on the streets, some of those 80% to 90% could drop into the category of chronic homelessness.

If part of the cost included in the $875 Million is fire, police, paramedic, ER visits, hospital visits and medical costs, those may possibly decrease if the permanent supportive housing is bolstered by sufficient supportive services, adequate security and solid management, but those costs will not go away completely.  All need to understand that these precious folks are often mentally and physically very ill.  And most are battling addictions. The years on the streets have not been kind to their minds, bodies or souls. It would be naïve to think that emergency calls and medical care would decrease sharply. We have had numerous emergency calls and 3 deaths, including at least 1 murder, in our immediate area in permanent housing just this week alone.  In fact, if the permanent supportive housing is not bolstered by costly sufficient support services, adequate honest security, and solid management, the emergency costs, death rate, and precious human cost could go up.  In the midst of our enthusiasm to provide this missing piece of the puzzle in serving the most devastated by long term homelessness with the best option, solid costly permanent supportive housing, we need to be accurate and not compare apples and oranges. 

I also take exception to the statement in the press release regarding the Chamber’s and United Way’s initiative, and that is to model after what Santa Monica is doing in regards to homelessness.  Certainly, we should follow in their footsteps in providing more permanent supportive housing, but not follow in their overall response to homelessness. 

From what I and others serving people experiencing homelessness have observed, Santa Monica has followed in the footsteps of Pasadena and others who have adopted the theology of The Field Of Dreams, “If you build it they will come”, in their approach to providing overall services to people experiencing homelessness acting as if by not providing services you can stop the production of people experiencing homelessness.  Choosing to require I.D.’s to prove your residency in a specific city before receiving services and believing that merely setting up a continuum of care that works efficiently for the city government is the key while leaving many who struggle with homelessness on the streets.  Now the City of Glendale, believing that the provision of a Winter Shelter last year caused the increase of people experiencing homelessness, plans to follow in the footsteps of Santa Monica after this coming Winter Season, and require proof of residency in Glendale before being served, shrink the numbers served at their Winter Shelter from 150 to 50, and turn to the architect of Pasadena’s continuum of care to operate their shelter.  If anything, we need to expand the Winter Shelters and make them year round as stated in  Step 7!

We know that emergency services, “3 hots and a cot”, limited case management and some support services are not the ultimate answer for precious people devastated by long-term homelessness, and strongly agree that solid permanent supportive housing is the best answer for chronic homelessness.  But until enough housing with support can be accomplished, we need to continue doing all that we can to keep people off of the streets. We need a both/and approach until sufficient supportive units are complete. 

We give a solid thumbs up to the Chamber and United Way in making a bold effort to end chronic homelessness in Los Angeles!  We will be there to sign on Dec. 1st, and we firmly believe that this is 1 of 10 crucial steps to ending homelessness in our great city. 


URM Hosts Annual Thanksgiving Celebration Despite Rain!

Today we held our annual Thanksgiving Celebration – but unlike every other year, we had to move it inside due to the rain! Even with the last minute change, the event was still great and we were able to serve many people from the Skid Row community.

Beginning at midnight, volunteers came out to help fry turkeys all through the night in preparation for the event! Guests enjoyed a hot meal of turkey, stuffing, veggies, yams, mac ‘n’ cheese, salad and pumpkin pie!

The Kids Zone was held in our 3rd floor gym, where people enjoyed snow cones, cotton candy, and popcorn while children played in jumpers, on a bungee run, and other games.

Check out all the photos from todays event by clicking here!

Daily Grill Honors Veterans at URM

Last Thursday, the Daily Grill came out to sponsor and serve a wonderful Veterans Day lunch once again!

Lunch began with Garfield High School ROTC presenting the flag, and leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

URM guests enjoyed a tasty meal of meatloaf, carrots, potatoes, and apple cobbler! Veterans were honored at a special table and served by representatives from the Daily Grill as a thank you for their service to our country.

Andre Ethier & Farmer Johns Team Up Once Again

It felt like a day at the stadium yesterday, as Andre Ethier of the LA Dodgers grilled and served up Farmer John’s hotdogs!

Guests were thrilled to meet Andre, and enjoy a tasty dinner. Thanks to Farmer Johns, we were able to serve up 1,000 bacon wrapped dogs – the new Official Hotdog of LA.  We also received a donation of 27,000 lbs of ham thanks to Farmer Johns!

In honor of the donation, we celebrated with one of our traditional Bell Ringings, and Andre Ethier rang the bell.

Thanks to everyone who helped make todays event possible!