On December 21, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission held its annual Christmas Feast, where about 200 people in need were warmly greeted and seated in the Rescue Mission’s dining hall, which was festively decorated with a large Christmas tree, stockings on the walls, and red and green streamers criss-crossing the ceiling. Volunteers from Frank Schipper Construction and the Samarkand (employees and residents) acted as servers, so guests could have a restaurant-like experience. Men in the Rescue Mission’s Residential Recovery Program prepared the scrumptious feast, which included turkey, ham, and all the fixings.
After their dining experience, guests were invited to select from an assortment of gifts displayed in nearby rooms. The Women’s Auxiliary, a 65-member organization that actively supports the Rescue Mission throughout the year, had solicited donations of new and gently-used items from individuals and businesses. Each guest received one or two brand new items and several used items of their choosing. Most popular were shoes, jackets, sweatshirts, and blankets. For many of the guests, these will be the only gifts they receive. Many expressed their deep gratitude for the holiday meal and gifts of much-needed items.
The Rescue Mission, which provides both emergency shelter and a 12-month residential recovery program, is in the midst of a $10 million remodel of its 40,000 square foot East Yanonali Street facility. According to President Rolf Geyling, after being used for more than three million meals and 1.6 million stays since 1986, the Yanonali facility was in desperate need of repair. Just in the past year, the facility has had four critical plumbing issues and all the major building systems were in need of replacement.
While the remodel is confined to the same footprint, a more efficient layout will enable the Rescue Mission to significantly expand the number of beds in its emergency shelter program. Currently, the chapel is used every night as overflow space, with homeless guests sleeping on mats. According to Geyling, “our remodel will make it so that every person who needs to stay at the Rescue Mission will be staying in a fixed bed in a room that is specifically designed for sleeping. It will allow clients to stabilize and receive care that will guide them toward the next steps of self-sufficiency.”
The remodel also will allow gender-specific bathrooms. Previously, women showered before the meal, while men had to wait until after dinner and use the same room. Additionally, the remodel will bring the facility into compliance with current seismic, structural, and accessibility codes.
The remodel has been challenging, since the Rescue Mission is committed to continuing to provide its critical services during the 16-month remodel period. The remodel in being done in two phases, so the organization has use of part of the facility throughout the period, where it operates some of its programs on a reduced scale. Other programs had to be suspended. Work began in October, the first phase will be complete this summer, and the second phase in early 2019.
During this first phase, the capacity in the men’s shelter program has been reduced from 70 to 14 and for women from 30 to 22. According to Geyling, this has resulted in a triage of sorts, with the focus on the most vulnerable members of the homeless community; those who would be most likely to end up requiring hospitalization if not appropriately sheltered. The remodel has also caused the Residential Treatment Program to be reduced from 45 to 35 participants.
The challenge of providing emergency shelter services has been magnified by the decision of PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) to not provide the 100 emergency shelter beds that it has provided in the past from December through March. Instead, PATH is providing these beds only when the temperature is below 40 or the chance of rain exceeds 50 percent two days in a row.
Thanks to Geyling and his dedicated, talented staff and volunteers, the Rescue Mission is handling the challenge well. The temporary reduction in services is very unfortunate, but also necessary to enable the Rescue Mission to provide its critical services in the future. Financial assistance is needed for both its ongoing operations and its capital campaign, which has raised $8.685 million of the $10 million needed.
Geyling shared how “there needs to be a place of compassion in the community because there are people who are suffering.” The Rescue Mission wants to ensure “that there always remain an adequate number of beds and a place in the community where people in crisis can receive grace and care, because that is the only way that they are going to move out of their situation.”
The Rescue Mission is the only emergency shelter that is open 365 nights of the year from Santa Maria to Ventura. In 2016, it provided 143,051 meals and 51,627 safe nights of shelter. The Rescue Mission’s 12-month residential recovery program has had off-the-charts success. Nationwide, only 21 percent of those who complete addiction recovery programs remain dependency free after five years, whereas the figure for the Rescue Mission’s graduates is a whopping 53 percent. Last year, 44 people graduated from the program and all of them were employed at the time of graduation.
For more information about the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission or to make an online donation, go to sbrm.org.
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By Gail Arnold