A few weeks ago on this blog I explored the options of having people experiencing homelessness pay part of their own way when they come into a Mission or agency for assistance.
I am going to reprint the former blog, share the comments, and after that, I am going to share how you all helped us arrive at what I believe and hope is an excellent path! Thank you!
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, theVoice 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 theVoice 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 theVoice 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 3rdgrade 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!
There were many responses to the initial announcement. Rather than post all of the great responses I will let those who are interested head to the URM site where the full content post can be seen:
First, let me say a huge “Thank You!” to all who read this blog and had the courage and took the time to weigh in! You really helped us. Everyone’s opinions helped shape a new policy for us, especially former guests’ opinions. We met with Myles, General Jeff, and Don Garza as well, and that was an amazing and enlightening meeting. We also spoke to our guests here.
I have to admit that one of the comments above that really spoke to my heart was Mary’s, “Hi Rev Andy. Perhaps the naming of the program is critical as it should reflect a covenant perspective rather than ‘taking from’?”
This, as well as the meeting with General Jeff, Don Garza, Myles Rose, and my past experience at the Door of Faith in Des Moines, Iowa, and our staffs and guests’ collective wisdom and experience, helped us develop a new program, all voluntary rather than mandated, called Gateway Transitional Program.
Initially limited to 25 men and 25 women, our Gateway Transitional Program is designed to bridge the gap between our Emergency Guest Program and our 12-18 month Life Transformation Programs. Features and benefits include:
■A 6-month covenant relationship with a commitment to sobriety.
■Attendance of classes in money management, job interviewing and job preparation, conflict resolution, assertiveness and time management.
■Group activities and motivational rallies specifically for Gateway Program participants.
■A dedicated bed in our men’s or women’s dorm complete with a footlocker for valuables.
■Hours/curfew will be tailored to the specific needs of each participant, and their bunk area will be considered their space and they will be allowed to rest or study as they can.
■Participants will contribute $210 per month to Union Rescue Mission. $60.00 of this contribution will be placed in their own personal savings account. The remaining $150 fee will be used to offset the cost of the Gateway Transitional Program.
Our guests are excited about this new opportunity to move out of the cycle of homelessness, and we are launching this month! Thanks for taking time to consider, for weighing in, and for truly helping us shape a program that really is a mutual covenant to help our guests and our Mission. Bless you! Andy B.