On A Mission

On A Mission

MPISCC supports several community non-profits. Our chapter’s annual fall fundraiser has included a clothing drive for the Los Angeles Mission, and our members and guests have been generous in providing gently-used items which are distributed to displaced men, women and children on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

It’s easy to give to something without realizing the impact those gifts have on the people who receive them. The work of the Los Angeles Mission is great, in all the possible meanings of that word. I wanted to know what the LA Mission is, and what does it really do? And share with my fellow MPI members the life-changing results your simple gifts help foster.

Anyone can become homeless

At any time there are around 10,000 displaced people in the Los Angeles Skid Row area. Men, women and children end up chronically homeless due to life events and wrong turns. Anyone can become homeless. The typical Skid Row resident has no income to cover basic necessities, no shelter or home, no job skills, few life skills, and no family support. In addition, they have given up looking for long-term help because nothing has helped previously, and they are probably dealing with addiction. There is a point at which a person cannot make a U-turn and fix their situation. They become chronically homeless — ending up out of resources, dignity, and hope.

Tine Russek, Gifts-in-Kind Manager, Los Angeles Mission
Tine Russek, Gifts-in-Kind Manager at the Los Angeles Mission, in the hallway that serves as a gallery of the program’s graduating classes.

The Los Angeles Mission provides hope and a way back. Established in 1936, it is one of 5 missions in Downtown Los Angeles, but is unique in its approach. I got together with Tina Russek, the Mission’s Gifts-in-Kind Manager — and a familiar face to MPISCC members who have supported our Chapter’s Annual Fundraiser — to learn about the Mission’s work. “Miss Tina” gave me the grand tour of the campus, introduced me to a couple of its students, and shared the Mission’s purpose and programs.

It’s a program, not a shelter.

The first thing you will want to know is that, unlike other missions in the Skid Row area, the Los Angeles Mission is not a shelter. Its purpose is not to provide a meal and a bed, although it begins there. Instead, it is a comprehensive recovery program incorporating proven spiritual principles, practical training and focused direction, with a hefty serving of accountability on top. The program involves 3 phases: recovery, transformation, and transition. These are achieved through whole-life counseling, education, and work training.

When a person comes to the mission looking for a safe place to sleep and a hot meal, their basic needs are met. They can also talk to a counselor. Some are invited to join the Mission’s year-long recovery program. They meet with the intake chaplain and are required to make a commitment. They initially go through a 30-day jump-start program in which they are evaluated regarding their commitment level and ability to succeed in the full 12-month Fresh Start Rehabilitation Program. The prospective student must be stable and capable of doing the physical and mental work required.

Students in the Fresh Start Rehabilitation Program live at the Mission; take classes; participate in vocational training (everyone
in the program starts out working in the kitchen preparing and serving meals to the Skid Row population), counseling and spiritual life of the mission. For those who have mental illness, PTSD, or just need to work through their issues, the Mission partners with the Chicago School of Psychology to assess and recommend treatment and resources. Every student meets daily with a counselor. Every student has an assigned responsibility at the Mission.

[It requires] 100% of what I’ve got,” said one student, “On days when
I only have 50%, I give 100% of that.

The recovery program becomes increasingly challenging as students work through it. It is not an easy program to get through. It requires a determination and a change in how one thinks. “[It requires] 100% of what I’ve got,” said one student, “On days when I only have 50%, I give 100% of that.” The program is structured to consider each person individually and assesses his or her strengths and weaknesses, even to the level of pairing up roommates. It encourages the iron-sharpens-iron principle.

Students who are further along in the program mentor the newer ones. The goal for each student is that he or she graduates (there are 3 classes of between 22-33 graduates each year) and transitions into a productive and satisfying life. Many graduates are able to return to their former fields of work.

The Los Angeles Mission
The Los Angeles Mission is located on 5th Street in the heart of the city’s Skid Row

After graduating, the students move into supervised transitional housing, take advantage of work opportunities in the community, receive ongoing support from the Mission’s Career Center and from its chaplains, and become involved in a local church. Tina showed me the Mission’s “hall of fame” — a long hallway where photos of graduating classes cover the yellow walls.

The north side of the Mission’s campus is the home of the Anne C. Douglas Center for Women. Named for its primary benefactor, Mrs. Kirk Douglas, the Center serves between 6,500-7,000 women and children each year with showers, hygiene, clothing and counseling. The Anne Douglas Center also opens a “boutique” two Saturdays each month for women to “shop” for clothing and other items for themselves and their children. This is the work that MPISCC’s clothing drive directly serves.

A Personal Story

Miss Tina introduced me to “Christine”, a student in the recovery program. She was at that moment studying for an exam, but graciously took the time to tell me her story.

Through a series of unfavorable life events, Christine ended up at the Los Angeles Mission. Christine is a single woman who once “had everything”. She was married, owned a home, enjoyed her career, and had a car. But she had made some bad choices and became addicted to prescription meds and alchohol. She lost everything in a divorce, and experienced a series of professional and personal setbacks. Despite several treatment and rehab programs, she was increasingly unable to pull herself together and fell into a decline, losing home, friendships and family connections. She cannot recall how she ended up at the Los Angeles Mission. First, they cared for her physical needs. Then she was able to talk with a counselor and was invited to join the Fresh Start Rehabilitation Program.

Los Angeles Mission's Fresh Start Rehabilitation Program student
Christine is a student in the Los Angeles Mission’s Fresh Start Rehabilitation Program

People are selected carefully for the Program. Before being accepted as a student, a person needs to show a level of commitment and motivation. The Program is not for victims looking for a hand-out. It is hard and deep work, and deals with underlying causes of the events that bring a person to the Mission in the first place. The Mission has a 63% success rate which means that, after 5 years, 63% of its graduates remain clean, sober, employed, have a place to live, and are maintaining productive, meaningful lives.

You come in with nothing. They clothe and feed you, and give you accessories,
and clean you up. Then they work on the inside

Christine described it this way, “You come in with nothing. They clothe and feed you, and give you accessories, and clean you up. Then they work on the inside. It wasn’t until I got here that I realized why faith is so necessary to understand who I am. I am not a mistake. I have a purpose for being here.

Continuing Education

In addition to the recovery program, the Los Angeles Mission’s Urban Training Institute — a continuing education program — partners with the Belmont Community Adult School to rebuild dignity by teaching vocational skills, offering GED preparation classes, and providing computer skills training.

With its multi-pronged approach to rescue, recovery and restoration, the Mission is effective in solving the problems of addiction, abuse and homelessness for those seeking a path to turn their lives around.

At work in the Los Angeles Mission’s Urban Training Institute

People don’t intend to end up without a home, job, family, or friends. Events in their lives, and their responses to them, lead them to become displaced from everything — including their humanity. They need to experience events that will contradict that loss and heal them, restoring their dignity and personhood. Ultimately, the Los Angeles Mission is about valuing people just because they are people, and not based on their accomplishments, their ability to contribute, or their situation in life.

Do you want to do more?

Consider helping out with one of the Mission’s annual events: the annual Street Event (it’s a celebrity-festooned affair) or serving meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. You can also become a regular supporter through gifts-in-kind or monetary contributions.

Connect and get more information via these links:

Anne Douglas Center          The Los Angeles Mission


Alvalyn Lundgren | Alvalyn Creative

Article and photos ©2016 Alvalyn Lundgren