LOS ANGELES, Calif.–One of the oldest and largest homeless shelters on Los Angeles’ Skid Row is scaling back its efforts, because of insufficient and delayed government funding, even as it sees a greater need, its chief executive announced today.

Union Rescue Mission, established in 1891, has beds for 800 people and serves more than 2,500 meals each day at 545 S. San Pedro St. It also operates medical, mental health, dental and legal aid clinics and offers job training, education, counseling and an array of other programs to help the Skid Row homeless population.

Those programs and the downtown shelter are largely funded by private donations to the Christian-based mission, and will continue. But a separate, secular nonprofit subsidiary dubbed EIMAGO–which operated temporary winter shelters in Culver City, West Los Angeles, Glendale and downtown, and built or renovated transitional family housing for 18 families off Skid Row–will be shut down.

EIMAGO, which provided beds for more than 600 homeless people, was set up to expand the mission’s efforts using government funding. But that money was never enough to cover EIMAGO’s operating costs, the mission’s Rev. Andy Bales said.

“We are finding that it’s better for us to rely on private funding,” Bales said. “We don’t receive sufficient funds” to pay for the government-sponsored shelters and are still waiting for $305,000 to cover the cost of temporary shelters the mission’s subsidiary operated this winter. Those shelters closed in March, but “we have yet to be paid,” Bales said.

He said the mission had used about $4.5 million in private funds to support its public programs over the last six years. The nonprofit’s total annual budget is about $15 million, and it is struggling to close a potential deficit of $1.3 million as it budgets for its next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The mission’s programs are also falling out of favor with current government objectives, making it more difficult to access dollars.

The “flavor of the day is to move all funds to permanent supportive housing,” Bales said, while the mission focuses on temporary or transitional shelter. It offers classes intended to help the homeless deal with addiction, learn necessary skills and overcome other obstacles before trying to find permanent housing, while other programs focus on housing as a first step.

He cited the success of the Hope Gardens Family Center, transitional housing in Sylmar, where families take classes in parenting, handling finances and relationship management before moving on to permanent housing.

Bales said Union Rescue Mission wants to stay in that business, creating “overcomers not just survivors,” disagreeing with those who he said put the homeless “in a unit with a roof over their heads and think they’ve solved homelessness.”

Bales also disagreed with a recent count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority that showed a 3 percent drop in the homeless population from 2009, saying that the mission has only seen the need for services increase and has stepped up to house triple the number of families and double the number of people since October 2008.

Bales cited a HUD study released June 14 that showed a 20 percent increase in family homelessness nationwide from 2007-2010. He said LAHSA simply missed counting many on the street.

“(LAHSA) missed it because they have such a strict definition of homelessness,” he said. As a result, the count misses “families and children who are bouncing around from family to family, from home to car.”

The same HUD study Bales cited found that overall homelessness held steady from 2009-2010, in line with LAHSA’s conclusions.

Whatever the overall numbers, nine families living in a transitional housing project in the West Adams district may be back sleeping on cots in the Skid Row mission if Bales cannot find them another place to live. They are living in one of the apartments the Union Rescue Mission will stop renting.

“We do this with heavy hearts,” Bales said in a statement.

By Elizabeth Marcellino | City News Service