One of the largest rescue missions in the U.S. has already served 3,100 people living on the streets of Los Angeles Thanksgiving dinner last Saturday. Its staff plans to serve hundreds more today at its shelter where an average of 800 people sleep every night. The scene is being repeated all week at the more than 300 Union Rescue Missions for the hundreds and sometimes thousands of homeless throughout the country.
However, perhaps nowhere is the homeless population more evident than when the multitudes are seen in long lines during the week at various homeless shelters who stage their biggest Thanksgiving events on days other than Thursday.
The Union Rescue Mission says that homelessness is devastating communities across the nation, but nowhere as much as in Los Angeles. "The City of Angels is now called 'The Homeless Capital of America,'" says the Christian-based organization.
"Skid Row (in Los Angeles) has the greatest concentration of homelessness in all of the country," the rescue mission's CEO Rev. Andy Bales told The Christian Post on Wednesday. "Half of our folks are women and children, which is the trend around the country that families are the greatest population of homeless people."
Bales said the URM's biggest event has been held on Saturdays over the last several years in order for many of his staff and volunteers to be able to spend Thanksgiving at home. Last Friday, 180 turkeys were cooked overnight in preparation for the massive serving operation.
Every year, there is an overwhelming amount of volunteers wanting to help during the Thanksgiving event and Bales said he has to turn some of the people away.
"A tremendous surge of volunteerism comes to us at Thanksgiving and Christmas," he said. "So much so that we have to ask some people to come back another day."
About 57,000 people in Los Angeles County experience homelessness on any given night, according to information provided by the shelter on its website. The URM's focus is on helping the homeless every day of the year. It provides comprehensive emergency and long-term services to help them escape the dangerous streets of Skid Row.
"L.A. County is known for glamour and glitz. But if you look past the bright lights, you'll see what angels see – men, women, and children of all ages that have lost their homes – and their hope," the mission states.
"We really focus on recovery and life transformation," Bales said. "We shelter and feed people, but our primary focus is an intense gospel-oriented recovery program that's really all about life transformation."
He said that those that enter URM's program receive 400 hours of classes in a learning center, including 19 classes on overcoming addiction and overcoming anger. All are Bible-based and students receive 20 hours one-on-one counseling as well. A similar program is established for families.
Bales, who is also part of a team of pastors and chaplains at the mission, said there are weekly chapel services and several other worship opportunities throughout the week.
When asked about what he is thankful for this holiday season, he said, "I'm grateful for life and I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with the precious people at the Union Rescue Mission. I really enjoy going to work every day and see walking miracles happen right in front of my eyes."
The non-profit organization's mission statement states: "We embrace people experiencing homelessness with the compassion of Christ – giving hope and healing for a changed life – helping them find their way home."
On the Web: http://urm.org/