Andy Bales is on a mission.
After serving for years in vocational ministry as a pastor, Bales is now on the front lines of the homelessness epidemic in Los Angeles.
“We speak up for people experiencing homelessness,” says Bales, the CEO of Union Rescue Mission (URM) in the heart of Skid Row. “We try to be the conscious of the city.
“I work hard to keep city, county, and officials accountable to take care of our brothers and sisters.”
URM, one of the largest homeless missions of its kind in the the nation, was founded in 1891 by Lyman Stewart, president and founder of Union Oil Company, and provides more than 3,000 meals on a daily basis along with shelter for more than 1,000 people.
Over the years, URM has continued and expanded its efforts to feed both the body and the soul, according to the organization’s website, helping individuals and families of the estimated 58,000 people in Los Angeles County experiencing homelessness break the cycle of poverty and achieve self-sufficiency.
What motivates this level of service to those in need? In short, the Christian faith is central to every aspect of URM. The mission itself gives expression to the redemptive work of the gospel of Jesus Christ in restoring the dignity of work to those they serve.
Along with providing emergency food and shelter needs on a daily basis, URM also offers more in-depth programming to help those needing to get back on their feet.
Much of the mission is designed not just to provide temporary housing but also long-term rehabilitation for those caught in the cycle of systemic displacement.
The Gateway Program, for instance, extends more in-depth care with overnight accommodations provided for a participants’ first 30 days before they are encouraged to pay part of their own way, contributing $5 per day with an additional $2 being contributed to their individual personal savings account.
“They can stay as long as they need to until they can get back on their feet,” Bales says.
One of the ways this is brought to bear is through the various workplace integration efforts pushed forth through URM and partnering organizations and agencies in Los Angeles.
“Most people absolutely want to work,” Bales says. “Some people are hampered by their work history having so many gaps or crimes in their background or a disability. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort and sending out resumes for a good relationship with a company to take root in order to have a chance to get a job.
“But almost everyone that we’ve encountered wants to work and does their best to make that happen.”
Specifically, Bales cited Los Angeles-based The Giving Keys and Toyota as companies that have partnered with URM in the past to help those with difficult or fractured work histories reintegrate back into the workforce.
In a 2015 story in GOOD Magazine, Mark Loranger, CEO of Chrysalis, a Los Angeles nonprofit that focuses on employment services for low-income, formerly incarcerated, and homeless populations, pointed out the specific hurdles many face in transitioning from homelessness back into the ebb and flow of everyday life.
“If we dream hard, the real impact isn’t the jobs we’re helping our clients find,” Loranger says. “It’s the dignity, respect, and familial connections that are formed when someone is gainfully employed. It’s massively reintegrating people into society.
“It’s making sure that society doesn’t have to carry our clients through welfare, but rather empower them to provide for themselves and their families.”
This perspective from Loranger is daily lived out through the vision and mission of URM. In fact, almost two-thirds of the participants who were helped through job placement services with URM are still employed today.
This desire to see the inherent goodness of work manifested in every corner of the world lies right at the heart of the efforts of both URM and the Center for Faith and Work Los Angeles.
While the need is great, the dignity of work itself shines brightly in the rehabilitative mission carried out daily by the staff and supporters of URM.
“The answer to the question, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” Bales says, “is ‘Yes.’”
Gage Arnold is the Communications Director for the Center for Faith & Work Los Angeles. He is currently an M.Div student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO., and holds a B.S. in Journalism & Electronic Media from the University of Tennessee.