Ministry Aims to End L.A. Homelessness by 2019

A Christian ministry launched an ambitious initiative this week to cut homelessness on Los Angeles' infamous Skid Row by 90 percent within three years, and completely end homelessness in the nation's second largest city within 10 years.

Union Rescue Mission, a Christian ministry that serves the poor and homeless in Los Angeles, announced Wednesday its new "You are the Mission" movement. The initiative focuses on changing the hearts of those who are not homeless so they will help advocate for those who are on the streets.

"At this time when poverty is at an all-time high and homelessness, especially among families, is at an all-time high in Los Angeles, I think it is appropriate time to ignite a movement to end homelessness as we know it in Los Angeles," said the Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of Union Rescue Mission, at the launch of the movement.

Bales emphasized that it's not URM that will end homelessness in the city, but partners, volunteers and members of the public who have a change of heart and will "no longer tolerate homelessness in Los Angeles."

 "We can't be the City of Angels at the same time being the capitol of homelessness in the U.S," Bales said as he called for "holy discontent" throughout Los Angeles.

L.A. County makes up three percent of the U.S. population, but it accounts for 10 percent of the nation's homeless population, he pointed out.

The long-time advocate for the homeless said URM picked ten years as the goal to end homelessness because "people on the streets don't have ten years," especially those on Skid Row where URM is located.

Skid Row is located in downtown Los Angeles and contains the largest population of homeless persons in the United States.

"They (those on Skid Row) don't even have three years," Bale stated. "Every night for them could be their last and it is time to take action."

Dr. Mark Brewer, pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, noted there are 8,000 houses of worship in the L.A. area and about 8,000 homeless families in the area.

Brewer called on all houses of worship to remember their two basic motivations – to love God and to love others – and to help sponsor homeless families for a short period.

"There are so many working homeless tonight that will be on the streets, they're not all drug addicted, psychotic and emotionally broken," Brewer said.

URM offers a 10-step framework to help end homelessness in Los Angeles. The first step is for people to experience a change of heart about people who are homeless. Instead of seeing the homeless as those addicts or transients, the initiative calls on people to see the homeless as "precious people, made in the image of God, who are currently experiencing homelessness."

The outline also suggests action steps to be taken to change one's heart, including taking time to know people who are homeless by hearing their stories and training oneself to think and speak differently about people who are homeless.

Other steps in the framework include: not making an excuse for inaction based on myths; not having anyone evicted to the streets; regionalizing solutions to homelessness; and connecting families with a mentoring team, among others.

Each step is followed by several suggested action steps that will help lead to the end of homelessness.

"The folks living in skid row spending the cold nights, they're not only those people. The kids sleeping without shelter and food, they're not those kids," said the Rev. Enoch De Assis, outreach pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian. "They belong to us. They're our children. They're our city's children. They're our church children living on the streets."

Assis says it will take the whole city, including law enforcement agencies, to transform Los Angeles.

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