Take 5 ... as in feed five .... in less than a minute for $10.
I am going to try something during the month of June. I am going to try to raise a few dollars for the folks over at Union Rescue Mission. They are the oldest and largest mission in Los Angeles. Maybe the largest in the nation.
You can donate $10 to Union Rescue Mission right from your cell phone in seconds.
Text the letters URM to 85944. You will receive a confirmation text message. Reply with the word YES to complete the transaction.
You will feed 5 people for $10 in less than 30 seconds. Your donation is tax deductible.
I am asking folks that read this to please pass on the link to this blog post. I am asking folks on twitter to re-tweet this when they see the post on twitter. Share via facebook, email, forums or anywhere possible.
Hopefully we can all work together and use social media to spread the word and raise a few dollars for the folks at http://www.urm.org/ You can learn much more about what Union Rescue Mission does by clicking on the link. There is a lot of material on their website. You can also donate in other ways including PayPal. (As a side note, I made the first PayPal donation when the system was initiated which was fun on many levels).
I will be updating this post with a running count of the views of the post to see how well the word is spreading.
Many people think they know what the face of homelessness looks like. Many picture a scene like that above.
In many cases you can not be farther from the truth. Click on "read more" for the bigger picture.
The percentage of homeless as depicted in the photo above is much smaller than one would generally imagine.
Since 2008 the economy and foreclosures have put many more people on the street.
The need for services and assistance has grown while financial support has fallen.
Last Thanksgiving I worked with my friends to provide over 1,450 meals for Thanksgiving dinner. I worked in the kitchen one day for lunch at URM when Stubb's BBQ was providing the meal. My job was to open countless jars of pickles (not small jars) and place the pickes into trays for the serving area.
To be blunt, there is little difference between 300 meals and 3,000. At a certain point I lose count and just think of it as A LOT. 10,000+ pickles is a lot. The shot below is a fraction of the jars I opened. Thank goodness for guitar grip as all these were opened by hand.
I am done with counting meals. I think I will try to count people and services because the folks at Union Rescue Mission do so much more than just serve a meal. There are a few videos on their website at http://www.urm.org/services/what-we-do.html that will give you an idea.
500 or 2000 meals may be hard to comprehend as far as a difference but people and their faces stick in my mind easier. So, I will try to focus my figures on people rather than plates.
I will also focus on women and children and perhaps families as it will be more difficult for others to post a picture in their mind like the photo I placed at the start of this post. Perhaps this shot below is better?
Nights of Shelter in May 2011 for women, children, families: 6,372. 31 days in the month, 1 night = 1 body. As a side note, there were no figures yet for 5/31 as I am writing this on 5/31.
2,314 of the nights of shelter were children. 649 were parents. 914 were mothers. 142 were emergency women or children.
At Union Rescue Mission there were 1,383 family nights of shelter provided. At URM's Hope Gardens facility the number for 30 days in May 2011 was 3,364 (women and children)
Picturing shelter for a child, woman or family which includes much more than a roof, cot and a meal makes stronger statement than folks in a food line. In my case anyway. I won't even get into the details of counseling, medical, dental, legal, laundry facilities, clothes and the list goes on.
I will quote a few lines from Andy Bales, the CEO of Union Rescue Mission:
Over the past three years, we've watched Los Angeles implode. Growing evictions, rising foreclosures, devastating job losses. Many say it is the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Worse, the unemployment rate is not going down, the number of men and women who have given up is rising. I expect another surge of families seeking our help.
Union Rescue Mission is running out of space - and out of money. Due to huge cuts in county funding and flat donations we are a staggering $1.4 million short of meeting our budget this summer. Every summer donation falls up to 50%. We have done everything we can to cut costs. We have cut wages across the board twice. We have cut employee benefits and positions. We have cut $2.5 million from our budget. It is not enough.
On 6/2/11 there were some stories on how Skid Row shelter charges fees as economy toughens: http://bit.ly/jN9b3O I will also copy the story here and highlight a few points:
Skid Row shelter charges fees as economy toughens
By CHRISTINA HOAG, Associated Press – 6/2/11
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Skid Row resident Dadisi Komolafe points indignantly to the sign reading "Union Rescue Mission," and grumbles that the name no longer fits since the shelter started charging for a nightly stay.
"They should change it to 'Union Hotel'," said the nearly toothless jazz musician, who sleeps on the street. "If you have to pay to stay there, it's not a mission. A lot of people are getting turned away."
For decades, four missions have given out "three hots and a cot" for free in downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row, where 4,000 down-on-their-luck people cram a 50-block area to form the nation's densest concentration of homeless people. The overflow from the shelters — nearly 1,000 people — spills nightly onto urine-stained sidewalks in a bedlam of tents, cardboard boxes and sleeping bags.
Two months ago, Union Rescue started charging $7 for an overnight stay, and cut its three free meals a day to one.
The move was driven by budget woes caused by the pinch of plummeting funding and soaring demand. But Andy Bales, the mission's chief executive, said he had been trying to institute fees for several years under a philosophy that homeless people should learn self-sufficiency. Faced with similar crunches, more shelters are taking that view.
"We've increased our sustainability, but we really think people are feeling better about themselves if they're not just taking handouts," Bales said.
Most homeless shelters across the country are free of charge, reflecting the concept that shelters are meant to be a safety-net of last resort before a berth on a sidewalk.
My own commentary on the above point: It is probably easier to run a free for all program for fewer individuals. Feeding 50 people is less expensive than feeding thousands. Shelter for 10 is less expensive than shelter for hundreds.
Talk about "no good deed goes unpunished" - when the backs of the missions are broken by a troubled economy which has added to the ranks of the homeless AND donations and financial help fades AND our own government is of little help, daily operations must change.
Simple math: needs and resources are not in balance. To think that so many people are bashing the people that helped them in the past for decades is shocking to me but not much of a surprise.
"Our aim is to get them off the street," said Herb Smith, president of Los Angeles Mission in Skid Row. "I don't think charging them is going to generate relationships to help them do that."
But others take a tough-love philosophy — free services create dependency and expectations of a free ride that don't motivate people to take responsibility for their lives.
They point out that most homeless are not destitute. The majority receives Social Security disability, which is about $845 a month in California, or general relief, about $221 a month. Some have jobs.
"It's a choice if they want to spend their money on a homeless agency or on something else," said Amanda Fewless, spokeswoman for the Orlando Union Rescue Mission in Florida, which charges $6 a night after offering the first seven nights for free. "It's a choice they're making with the money they do have."
In Honolulu, the nonprofit Institute for Human Services started charging fees at its two shelters three years ago. The shelter gives 90 days free, thereafter charging $70 per month for a single person, or $90 for a family, said spokeswoman Kate Record.
"It's really encourages them to get on their feet and prepares them for paying rent," Record said. "It prevents people from taking advantage of the shelter, coming and going like a hostel."
Like Union Rescue Mission, both shelters say they will not turn away people who truly cannot afford to pay.
But the idea of charging fees grates many homeless advocates, who note that even $7 is a lot for a homeless person.
"Shelters are becoming very difficult to afford," said Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "These are people in dire economic conditions. They have very limited disposable income. It doesn't do anything for their economic situation." My thought here: I agree but once again, there are more people and there is less money. Food, square footage, electricity, security, water, building maintenance, bed or cots, etc. are not free resources. Somebody has to pay for these things and fewer people are stepping up to the plate.
Pushback from homeless advocates last year caused New York City to derail a plan to charge income-based rent at its homeless shelters.
Instead, the city's Department of Homeless Services now mandates that shelter residents maintain a savings account, with the amount of their deposits based on income. They can withdraw their savings when they move on.
"It creates an incentive to leave," said department Commissioner Seth Diamond. "This is about building behavior of self-sufficiency."
A savings account is also part of Union Rescue Mission's program. Of the $7 fee, $2 goes into an account that is turned over to the residents when they leave.
Residents receive three free nights. If they choose to stay and pay, they receive perks — three meals a day and permission to remain in their dormitories instead of having to leave early in the morning. Mothers with children do not have to pay and can eat all meals for free.
When the fees started April 1, the shelter's 300 beds emptied overnight with some residents angrily claiming it was illegal for missions to charge fees. "One guy ripped down the sign," Bales said. "People thought it was a cruel April Fool's Day joke."
Since then, 200 beds have filled back up. If all beds are occupied, the program would generate about $45,000 annually, which Bales noted barely dents the mission's $1.4 million budget hole this year. The agency, which relies on donors after local government funding dried up, has already cut staff, salaries and benefits.
The policy has had some unexpected advantages.
Residents say the shelter is much calmer and cleaner since the fees started and paying guests seem more serious about getting their lives in order. There are fewer fights and emergency calls.
"Beforehand, it was like a madhouse," said Ronald Wells, who has been living at missions for a year. "People really weren't interested in doing anything for themselves."
Edward Bravo, who became homeless after being evicted from his apartment, said paying his way makes him feel better about himself. "When everything was free, it was okay," he said. "Now I feel inside of me, it's helped me."
Christina Hoag can be reached at http://twitter.com/ChristinaHoag
The CEO of Union Rescue Mission, Rev. Andy Bales, wrote a bit about the changes over at URM prior to these stories coming out. You can read Andy's commentary at http://bit.ly/gQlQAn
In regard to the news stories where some have issues and are not in support of the new system I have a few things to say in response to their lack of support that may make things a bit more simple to understand.
1. There is not enough money.
What have YOU done to support these services and meals?
2. There are more homeless on the street than there have been in years and donations and support are lower than they have been in years. Again, there is not enough money.
3. Some have compared our economy to the Titanic. With limited resources it is time to save the women, children and those with some hope of being saved.
4. There is not enough money.
(Just in case my point was missed) I may be speaking out of line but I will go out on a limb and say that I feel that Union Rescue Mission would provide 20,000 meals a day if the money was available. The changes that were made were due to the economic situation not by any desire to feed or shelter fewer people.
Perhaps I am trying to cover two subjects which are really different. One subject is about helping those who want to change their lives make changes and build a wonderful and productive life for themselves.
The other subject is the lack of money and the meteoric rise in required services with no funding to pay for the rise in added services. The economy has hit many people hard and the Union Rescue Mission is no exception.
On June 7, 2011 Rev. Andy Bales was on KFWB radio talking about some policy changes over at Union Rescue Mission. I was driving across the San Fernando Valley when Andy came on the radio. I enjoyed the broadcast and when I had computer access again I sent the following comments on twitter:
@KFWB @abales is on speaking about changes at @URM Lots of great information. A step forward for the #homeless in Los Angeles
@URM policy shift toward people who want to change rather than to those who expect a handout. Kudos to @abales.
From my own viewpoint, it is better to allocate limited funding for people who wish to change rather than dilute the resources with additional people that expect a handout.
Later that day Andy wrote a new entry on some current issues being faced by Union Rescue Mission. Andy's latest can be seen at: http://www.urmblog.org/2011/06/07/steadfast-commitment/
Please spread the word, spread the link and lend a hand. The folks at Union Rescue Mission can use your help.
Below is a slide show with a few images. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Some of these speak volumes.