San Diego Rescue Mission faces financial turmoil
October 2, 2007
Filed under News
The San Diego Rescue Mission (SDRM) is off budget by “an undisclosed, substantial amount,” according to Vice President Shari Houser. Cuts have already been made to programs for the 2008 fiscal year beginning next month.
The nonprofit organization is the only place in San Diego that offers overnight shelter every night and at any time between 7p.m. and 7a.m. for the homeless living in its streets- approximately 10,000 according to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. Downsizing means more people on the streets and less resources for the men, women and children in their long-term programs.
According to Houser, the number of homeless people coming to the mission is only growing. She said that in the nine years she has been vice president, the mission has seen the most homeless children during the last three months. She attributes the increase in part to other missions around the city undergoing remodeling, and consequently not being able to care for their usual amount of people.
Over the last several weeks Emergency Services Director Molly Downs has started turning away two to six women each night from Nueva Vida Haven, the overnight shelter for single women and women with children. In the last seven years she had only done that a handful of times. Never has the shelter turned away women with children,
but since the overnight shelter is filled to capacity, it is becoming a possibility.
“Moms and kids would have to be on the streets at night,” said Downs. “I’ve
never had to [turn them away] before. They have nowhere to go.”
Donations and volunteers are the two things that can steer SDRM clear of financial disaster. The $12 million it takes to run the mission each year must come almost solely from donations. The mission is a faith-based organization and therefore does not qualify for most government funds.
President and CEO Herb Johnson said that while the mission is having a tough year, financial problems “go with the territory” of running a nonprofit. He suggests that economical reasons, such as the decline of the housing market and the increase in gas prices, have affected people’s donations.
“No one has let us down, our needs have just grown,” said Houser. “The mission is bigger and we serve more people than ever before, and we do it better than ever before. But the cost of living, the cost of feeding more people, the cost of housing more people and having the staff to be with those people is astronomical.”
Volunteers can help in many ways. There is a constant need for volunteers in the mission’s three thrift stores, a solid source of income. SDRM also needs people to serve meals, form relationships with the homeless and sort donations.
“We are desperate for volunteers right now, because not only can we not afford
enough staff to begin with, we don’t have enough staff to be relational with the people,” said Houser. “What the women and children really need is someone to come hold their
hand and tell them they are going to get through the night.”
SDRM offers Volunteer Recruitment Meetings every third Wednesday of the month at 5p.m. at the shelter. The next one is on Oct. 17. For people looking to get involved, this meeting is the key to volunteering at the mission.
Houser encourages the public to take notice of the critical situation.
“You don’t have to go that far to see people dying of AIDS,” she said. “You don’t have to go that far to see people who can’t afford healthcare and are therefore dying. You don’t have to go that far to see starving, homeless children. I have them, they are right here for you. And we are coming to a time when I can’t do much for them because the mission has a limited number of funds, as does every agency.”
“People again and again say, ‘It’s America, how bad could it be?’ Well, it’s deadly.”
The mission is hosting several events open to the public in the next year. Next in line is a candlelight vigil on Nov. 1 at the San Diego Concourse at 7p.m. to honor the lives of the homeless who have died on streets.
In the end, Johnson remains positive that the mission will survive.
“God always provides,” he said. “He’s kept it going for 50 years. He’s going to keep it going for 50 more.”