Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Weirdness of Union Gospel Mission’s Warming Center

I’m not saying that staying at the Mish1’s Warming Center is bad; indeed, it’s the best – to my mind based on my few stays there and at Sally’s2 Warming Center.

What’s weird about it has been the late-spring announcement that it would be open through to the end of winter and all that has transpired (and not transpired) subsequently.

Make no mistake: I am a big fan of the mission. It may not be making a conservative Christian out of me, but it is a purposeful, successful institution in the Homeless World Sacramento matrix. Its task – its mission, if you will – is to win souls for Christ, and it succeeds in its quest with a goodly number of the guys out here. The mission turns around the lives of some people who were, stubbornly, on the hard road to disaster.

My take on one prime reason why the mission has success:

Union Gospel Mission’s objective is a great match to the target, homeless adult men in Sacramento. The mission teaches order and authority to a population, many of whom are in chaos. It gives meaning to people’s lives for those who find no meaning in their lives. It sets off, in sharpest contrast, the dysfunction of a life of addiction or of being acclimated to prison culture with striving for The Good.
Mission administrators might not approve of my ‘notion’ of one important element in why the Mission succeeds, but, no matter, it succeeds for them in their terms, and I respect that. [You can read why I think the mission succeeds in the sidebar in this blogpost.]

The Weirdness
On February 9, or thereabouts, it was announced that the mission would be opening its Warming Center every night for the duration of winter. This was greeted with great approval by those in the chapel that evening. But it was also learned that the guy managing the nightly Center would be a member of the Mission Board of Directors son-in-law, someone who had no connection to the mission previously.

Nowadays, because of the very bad economic situation in Sacramento, there are many Mission Rehab Program graduates hanging around who need employment. Four beds in the “guests3” dorm have been ‘given over’ to unemployed graduates. And it’s true that there are many unemployed graduates at the mission’s Eagle’s Nest Ranch. And, the mission lists as one of its goals the employment of Rehab grads. Too, there are graduates in good standing who work only sporadically who stay as guests, off and on.

At least a half dozen of the Rehab grads who are around are skilled, very capable individuals who would have been very appreciative if offered temporary work and would have been terrific Warming Center managers.

In short, there was frustration felt, by some, in that the mission seemed to have veered off what is most central: cultivating men in the Christian message, saving their souls, and restoring their lives.

A few days later it was learned that the “duration of winter” Warming Center would be open “just on weekdays.” Now, that seemed weird. The weather is not a respecter of days of the week. To paraphrase the Bible [Matthew 5:45], “God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous," and is indifferent if it is a weekday or a weekend-day.

It occurred to people that the ‘five times a week’ thing was scheduled for the convenience of the manager and not as a function of combatting the misery of bad weather that homeless people endure.

About a week later, it was announced that the Warming Center would be open every day of the week, with the Warming Center manager being on hand on Wednesday-thru-Sunday nights with someone else being in charge on Mondays and Tuesdays. The Center would be open through the 19th of March [the last day of winter], and longer if the weather was bad. [In Homeless World Sacramento, March 31 was when formal “Winter Shelter” traditionally ends. “Winter Sanctuary,” Sacramento Steps Forward’s 2011 program that provides sleeping space on the floors at area churches, is funded to last through March 31.]

On Thursday March 3, we were told the Warming Center manager called in sick, complaining of a cold or the flu, and, with little notice, the Warming Center was not open that night. On the 4th, the Warming Center was again not open.

Last night, it was announced that the Warming Center would only be open if night temperatures are expected to drop into the low 30s, or below. [This was the ‘prompt’ in the past that the mission had used to open its Center.]

The Thing’s the Thing
In the past this blog has, rightly, been extremely critical of Loaves & Fishes for losing sight of its purpose. I am hopeful that the mission will keep its eyes on the great good worthy goal of helping the poor – and, especially, the most miserable subset of the poor, the homeless – and not be distracted by other, albeit worthy, aims.
1My Natomas friend calls the mission “the Mish,” which has caught on with me. Sometimes, when out in public, I call the mission “the Ponderosa” when talking to my homeless pals. It’s not that I’m embarrassed by the mission or my connection with it, it is just that you get weary of being a “targeted homeless” person in public.
2“Sally’s” is the common ‘street’ name for Salvation Army’s shelter.
3“Guest” is what the mission calls non-Rehab guys who use UGM’s shelter, or men (and women) who use others of the mission’s many services.

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