Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

From the staff of the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley, Happy and Blessed New Year. Please remember that homelessness knows no season.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cold Weather Emergency Program - Part 3

Because of the news story referenced below, I had a great opportunity to share the Help Hotline number yesterday. It is to prevent these kind of occurrances that Help Hotline was established 20 years ago. Help spread the word.

Recent Death of Homeless Woman Prompts Concern

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hats for the Homeless

Patti Adams, a letter carrier from Hubbard, presented homemade hats to the residents at the Rescue Mission. Follow the link to read the story from the Youngstown Vindicator.

Woman crochets hats for the city’s homeless - Local & Regional News -, The Vindicator

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Quaker Steak and Lube

On Monday, the staff of Quaker Steak and Lube in Austintown provided a Christmas dinner for the residents of the Rescue Mission. This is the 2nd year for this event and the residents love the opportunity to dine out. Thank you, Shannon Kizima-Jewell and Quaker Steak staff who volunteered your personal time to provide with the meal.

Christmas Party

Each year the staff and management of Coca-Cola provides a special Christmas treat for the residents of the Mission. Yesterday afternoon (Dec. 22), the good people from Coke brought a special visitor from the North Pole to distribute gifts. Thanks, Coca-Cola Distributors of Youngstown.


Winter Wonderland

Twenty years ago, Winter Wonderland came into being at the Rescue Mission. The idea was born to provide homeless people with the opportunity to give at Christmas. Mission residents are permitted to shop for family members who may or may not be with them at the shelter. This year, Winter Wonderland was on Dec. 19. We could not do this without the help of a committed group of volunteers. Special thanks go to the Youth of Greenford Christian Church and to Carol (Santa) Perkins.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bridges, not Barriers

It was great to see more than 100 attend the Bridges Out of Poverty Training yesterday. The Mahoning Valley is second to none in extending compassionate care to the disadvantaged in our community.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Two Spruce Up Rescue Mission Lobby for Holidays - WKBN - 27 First News - Local News - Youngstown, Warren, Columbiana, Ohio - Sharon, Pennsylvania

Two Spruce Up Rescue Mission Lobby for Holidays - WKBN - 27 First News - Local News - Youngstown, Warren, Columbiana, Ohio - Sharon, Pennsylvania

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Why Are People Homeless - Part 3


Particularly within the context of poverty and the lack of affordable housing, certain additional factors may push people into homelessness. Other major factors, which can contribute to homelessness, include the following:

Lack of Affordable Health Care: For families and individuals struggling to pay the rent, a serious illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness, beginning with a lost job, depletion of savings to pay for care, and eventual eviction. One in three Americans, or 86.7 million people, is uninsured. Of those uninsured, 30.7% are under eighteen. In 2007-2008, four out of five people that were uninsured were working families. Work-based health insurance has become rarer in recent years, especially for workers in the agricultural or service sectors (Families USA, 2009).

Domestic Violence: Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. In addition, 50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Approximately 63% of homeless women have experienced domestic violence in their adult lives (Network to End Domestic Violence).

Mental Illness: Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Despite the disproportionate number of severely mentally ill people among the homeless population, increases in homelessness are not attributable to the release of severely mentally ill people from institutions. Most patients were released from mental hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s, yet vast increases in homelessness did not occur until the 1980s, when incomes and housing options for those living on the margins began to diminish rapidly. According to the 2003 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Report, most homeless persons with mental illness do not need to be institutionalized, but can live in the community with the appropriate supportive housing options (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). However, many mentally ill homeless people are unable to obtain access to supportive housing and/or other treatment services. The mental health support services most needed include case management, housing, and treatment.

Addiction Disorders: The relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial. While rates of alcohol and drug abuse are disproportionately high among the homeless population, the increase in homelessness over the past two decades cannot be explained by addiction alone. Many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never become homeless, but people who are poor and addicted are clearly at increased risk of homelessness. Addiction does increase the risk of displacement for the precariously housed; in the absence of appropriate treatment, it may doom one's chances of getting housing once on the streets. Homeless people often face insurmountable barriers to obtaining health care, including addictive disorder treatment services and recovery supports.


Homelessness results from a complex set of circumstances that require people to choose between food, shelter, and other basic needs. Only a concerted effort to ensure jobs that pay a living wage, adequate support for those who cannot work, affordable housing, and access to health care will bring an end to homelessness.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Are People Homeless - Part 2

Two factors help account for increasing poverty: eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce and the declining value and availability of public assistance.

Reasons why homelessness persists include stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs which offer fewer benefits.

Low-wage workers have been particularly have been left behind as the disparity between rich and poor has mushroomed. To compound the problem, the real value of the minimum wage in 2004 was 26% less than in 1979 (The Economic Policy Institute, 2005). Factors contributing to wage declines include a steep drop in the number and bargaining power of unionized workers; erosion in the value of the minimum wage; a decline in manufacturing jobs and the corresponding expansion of lower-paying service-sector employment; globalization; and increased nonstandard work, such as temporary and part-time employment (Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, 1999). To combat this, Congress has planned a gradual minimum wage increase, resulting in minimum wage raised to $9.50 by 2011.

Declining wages, in turn, have put housing out of reach for many workers: in every state, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent.1 A recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report stated that in every state more than the minimum-wage is required to afford a one or two-bedroom apartment at 30% of his or her income, which is the federal definition of affordable housing. Unfortunately, for 12 million Americans, more then 50% of their salaries go towards renting or housing costs, resulting in sacrifices in other essential areas like health care and savings.

The connection between impoverished workers and homelessness can be seen in homeless shelters, many of which house significant numbers of full-time wage earners. In 2007, a survey performed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that 17.4% of homeless adults in families were employed while 13% of homeless single adults or unaccompanied youth were employed. In the 2008 report, eleven out of nineteen cities reported an increased in employed homeless people. With unemployment rates remaining high, jobs are hard to find in the current economy. Even if people can find work, this does not automatically provide an escape from poverty.


The declining value and availability of public assistance is another source of increasing poverty and homelessness. Until its repeal in August 1996, the largest cash assistance program for poor families with children was the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (the federal welfare reform law) repealed the AFDC program and replaced it with a block grant program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). In 2005, TANF helped a third of the children that AFDC helped reach above the 50% poverty line. Unfortunately, TANF has not been able to kept up with inflation. In 2006-2008, TANF case load has continued to decline while food stamp caseloads have increased.

Moreover, extreme poverty is growing more common for children, especially those in female-headed and working families. This increase can be traced directly to the declining number of children lifted above one-half of the poverty line by government cash assistance for the poor (Children's Defense Fund and the National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998). As a result of loss of benefits, low wages, and unstable employment, many families leaving welfare struggle to get medical care, food, and housing.

People with disabilities, too, must struggle to obtain and maintain stable housing. In 2006, on a national average, monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment rose to $715 per month which is a 113.1% of a person’s on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) monthly income (Priced Out in 2006). For the first time, the national average rent for a studio apartment rose above the income of a person who relies only on SSI income. Recently, only nine percent of non-institutionalized people receiving SSI receive housing assistance (Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, 2005). Most states have not replaced the old welfare system with an alternative that enables families and individuals to obtain above-poverty employment and to sustain themselves when work is not available or possible.


A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. According to HUD, in recent years the shortages of affordable housing are most severe for units affordable to renters with extremely low incomes. Federal support for low-income housing has fallen 49% from 1980 to 2003 (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). About 200,000 rental housing units are destroyed annually. Renting is one of the most viable options for low income people (Joint Center for Housing Studies).

Since 2000, the incomes of low-income households has declined as rents continue to rise (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). In 2009, a worker would need to earn $14.97 to afford a one-bedroom apartment and $17.84 to afford a two-bedroom apartment. There has been an increase of 41% from 2000 to 2009 in fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit, according to HUD (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2009). The lack of affordable housing has lead to high rent burdens (rents which absorb a high proportion of income), overcrowding, and substandard housing. These phenomena, in turn, have not only forced many people to become homeless; they have put a large and growing number of people at risk of becoming homeless.

Housing assistance can make the difference between stable housing, precarious housing, or no housing at all. However, the demand for assisted housing clearly exceeds the supply: only about one-third of poor renter households receive a housing subsidy from the federal, state, or a local government (Daskal, 1998). The limited level of housing assistance means that most poor families and individuals seeking housing assistance are placed on long waiting lists. Today the average wait for Section 8 Vouchers is 35 months (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2004). Excessive waiting lists for public housing mean that people must remain in shelters or inadequate housing arrangements longer. In a survey of 24 cities, people remain homeless an average of seven months, and 87% of cities reported that the length of time people are homeless has increased in recent years (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Longer stays in homeless shelters result in less shelter space available for other homeless people, who must find shelter elsewhere or live on the streets. In 2007, it was found that average stay in homeless shelters for households with children was 5.7 months, while this number is only slightly smaller for singles and unaccompanied children at 4.7 months. (The U.S. Conference for Mayors, 2007).

In 2003, the federal government spent almost twice as much in housing-related tax expenditures and direct housing assistance for households in the top income quintile than on housing subsidies for the lowest-income households (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). Thus, federal housing policy has not responded to the needs of low-income households, while disproportionately benefiting the wealthiest Americans.

Christmas at the Mission

Be sure to watch WKBN/FOX and WYTV news today for an interview with two of our volunteers who decorated the Mission lobby for Christmas. Greta Mittereder has a live spot this morning with taped segments to show at noon, 5:00, 6:00, and 11:00.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why Are People Homeless - Part 1

This was published in July, 2009 by the National Coalition for the Homeless and is available here. I will post it in several parts:

Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. Below is an overview of current poverty and housing statistics, as well as additional factors contributing to homelessness. A list of resources for further study is also provided.

Recently, foreclosures have increased the number of people who experience homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless released an entire report discussing the relationship between foreclosure and homelessness. The report found that there was a 32% jump in the number of foreclosures between April 2008 and April 2009. Since the start of the recession, six million jobs have been lost. In May 2009, the official unemployment rate was 9.4%. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that 40 percent of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters and 7 million households living on very low incomes (31 - 50 percent of Area Median Income) are at risk of foreclosure.

Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.

In 2007, 12.5% of the U.S. population, or 37,300,00 million people, lived in poverty. The official poverty rate in 2007 was not statistically different than 2006 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2007). Children are overrepresented, composing 35.7% of people in poverty while only being 24.8% of the total population.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Economy Adding to Rescue Mission Populations

This press release may be found on the AGRM website. I thought it would be of interest:

Men with children and intact families needing help on the rise

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. (Nov. 25, 2009) – Gospel rescue missions across North America are working harder than ever to offer help and hope to the growing population of men, women and children—hit hard by high unemployment rates and financial struggles—experiencing hunger and homelessness for the very first time, in addition to serving the chronically homeless and addicted. The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions’ (AGRM) 20th annual Snapshot Survey of the Homeless points to this increasing need and provides insights about who gospel rescue missions are serving.

“The numbers of people now seeking services from our member missions is beyond anything we’ve seen in the past,” said AGRM President John Ashmen. “Most of our missions tell us their beds are full every night, plus they are using all the common space in their facilities to accommodate the long lines of people showing up at their doors, pleading for a warm place to sleep.”

Not surprisingly with the current economy, the number of those who were in the missions during the survey period who had lost their government benefits (22 percent) was up seven percent, and the number of people who have never before been homeless (37 percent) was up three percent.

While women with children are still by far the largest family units in need (60 percent), their involvement at gospel rescue missions decreased by 6 percent. The number of men with children (9 percent) and intact families (18 percent) both increased four percent. This could indicate that the economic situation is adding increased burdens to what would generally be considered more stable segments of the population, Ashmen said.

“The Fresno Rescue Mission and other nonprofit organizations in the community are experiencing grim statistics from the ‘working poor,’” said Larry Arce, CEO of Fresno Rescue Mission. “They are not necessarily homeless but are having a difficult time making their hard-earned dollar stretch out through the month. This has impacted every facet of our ability to give food, clothing and protective shelter.”

On the other side of the country, Chico Daniels, president/CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids, Mich., is seeing the deep impact of the downturn in the auto industry.

“Poverty is on the rise, and people are losing their homes because of job loss and downsizing,” Daniels says. “People are losing hope and that’s where gospel rescue missions come in—to restore hope to the hopeless.”

Last week, AGRM President Ashmen was in Boise, Idaho, and Fairfield, California, for the dedication of additional facilities at the cities’ rescue missions, thanks to donors’ and community leaders’ support. In both cases, the buildings will house women and children. Similar undertakings are in process in many cities across the continent.

“The challenges we are facing with serving more meals and providing more shelter are stretching us like never before,” said Dick McMillen, president of Philadelphia’s Sunday Breakfast Mission. “Thank God we just tripled the size of our kitchen/dining room. I don’t know how we could have handled the increased need otherwise.”

In other findings, the survey indicates that the overall age of those going to rescue missions is climbing. Those between 46 and 65 make up the highest age-group percentage (38 percent). In other words, the size of the baby boom generation seems to be reflected in the centers.

Additionally, the number of guests who had been homeless three or more times (22 percent) dropped three percent.

The Snapshot Survey of the Homeless, completed in October by 105 rescue missions across North America, looks at a point in time, but because it is a reoccurring survey looking at the same point in time every year, it provides excellent comparative figures and trending data.

Founded in 1913, the Colorado Springs-based Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) is North America’s oldest and largest network of independent crisis shelters and rehabilitation centers, offering radical hospitality in the name of Jesus. With approximately 275 member missions, AGRM exists to proclaim the passion of Jesus toward the hungry, homeless, abused and addicted, and to accelerate quality and effectiveness in member missions.

Every year, faith-based ministries that are members of AGRM serve approximately 42 million meals, provide more than 15 million nights of lodging, distribute more than 27 million pieces of clothing, bandage the wounds of hundreds of abuse victims, and graduate 18,000-plus homeless men and women from addiction recovery programs into productive living. For more information, see, or call (800) 4RESCUE.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Open Doors

This is a picture of the main entrance of the resident building on Martin Luther King Blvd. Whenever I see this, it reminds me that the doors of the Mission are always open, 24 hours each day, 7 days each week. On behalf of the homeless people who walk through these doors every day, I want to thank all who make these open doors possible.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter Coming

The National Weather Service is calling for the 1st winter storm of the season to hit the Great Lakes today. While it looks as though the Youngstown area will miss the brunt of the storm, we are expecting rain, 1-2 inches of snow, and high winds.

I cannot help thinking about those who are living out in the elements. There are several “encampments” of homeless people in our area. One group has been staying near the Mahoning River in the downtown area. Another larger encampment has been seen off and on for a few years near the Austintown truck stop area.

Many of these people refuse housing. They have been approached by outreach workers from several agencies concerning shelter, but they prefer to stay where they are. They will utilize the different meal sites within the city, but they refuse shelter until the weather conditions are extreme.

Unfortunately, we cannot help everyone. However, we can help those who are homeless through circumstances over which they have little or no control: economics, family issues; house fires, etc. People will also find themselves homeless often as a secondary result of substance abuse or mental health issues.

As you enjoy the warmth of your house this week, don’t forget those who are without a warm house to enjoy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cold Weather Emergency Program - Part 2

Thanks to Bob Altman, Program Director for the Cold Weather Emergency Program at Help Hotline for this submission:

The idea for the Cold Weather Program began 20 years ago when Lt. Francis Gallagher from YPD presented a dilemma to several community leaders regarding what to do about homeless persons the police find on the streets, in abandoned buildings, or huddled in doorways during the winter months. Lt. Gallagher stated that the police had been picking up these people and placing them in jail so that the individuals would not freeze to death during the bad weather. He stated that the police could no longer do this, that it was against the individuals’ rights as they had not committed a crime. The meeting included Reverend David Sherrard of the Rescue Mission, Don Griesmann of Northeast Ohio Legal Services, Neil Altman, Youngstown City Health Commissioner, Cathy Grizinski of Help Hotline, Sam Kooperman of Jewish Federation, Jack Thomas of Catholic Charities and other community persons. An additional meeting was called to discuss more fully what steps needed to be taken to combat this dilemma facing the community. The goal from the beginning was that “No one freezes to death during the winter months”. This is still the project’s singular goal.

It was decided to utilize two important community assets; the Rescue Mission and Help Hotline. Its unclear as to who came up with the idea of utilizing these resources in the manner they have been utilized over the past 20 years but the plan was for homeless persons, families and community individuals to call Help Hotline during the hours of 9:00 p.m. through 7:30 a.m. during the winter months of December 1 through March 31 in order for homeless persons and/or families to receive shelter at the Mission. The reason for this is that it freed up shelter staff to deal with the homeless there while Help Hotline would handle all the calls and then call the shelter that a homeless person/family was coming in. Often police and other entities would just drop off people at the shelter. By having a single gateway to the system, it was hoped that this would make the system work more smoothly for all concerned.

The initial year saw very little activity but that was expected as the program barely got off the ground before winter hit. Each subsequent year saw more homeless utilizing the shelter as billboards were purchased, flyers sent out and word of mouth among the homeless told everyone they saw.

Funding for the program started with the city and local organizations such as the United Way, Jewish Federation and Catholic Charities. This has continued to this day and all funding is put into operating the program. Projected bed stays for the past 20 years is over 60,000 with many of the homeless persons coming back each year.

Early on additional agencies came on board with mental health, alcohol and drug, outreach services. These agencies have strengthened the project’s mission. Statistics help to guide the project as a minimum of four meetings take place with the February meeting being a guideline as to if anything needs to be done different, although Mission and Hotline staff work very closely throughout the project. The idea of a press conference to announce the plight of the homeless in Mahoning County was started several years ago and continues to show how the community has come together. Press conferences have been held at several locations including the shelter and generally have been well attended.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cold Weather Emergency Program - Part 1

One of the projects I have planned is what I will call "blogging the Cold Weather Program." I hope to feature stories and articles relating to this collaborative project that began 20 years ago. The next CWEP (Cold Weather Emergency Program) entry will be from Bob Altman of Help Hotline, the CWEP project coordinator.

This article appeared in the Youngstown Vindicator on Wednesday, Dec.2, 2009. It is available from

YOUNGSTOWN — Last winter, 263 people in Mahoning County sought emergency shelter from the cold. With the economy still struggling, there is no reason to believe that this winter season will see any fewer needing help, said Bob Altman of Help Hotline Crisis Center. Homeless individuals and families often sleep in their vehicles, abandoned buildings, doorways or anywhere they can to get out of the cold, said Altman, coordinator of the Mahoning County Cold Weather Emergency Shelter Program.

Many stay with family members or friends, but “doubling up” usually lasts only a short time as the overcrowded conditions may lead to problems, he said. The goal is that no one freezes to death because they do not have a warm place to sleep, and that was accomplished last year. The goal remains the same for this year, Altman said Tuesday, as the shelter program kicked off its 20th season with its second annual Homeless Awareness Walk.

A small group walked from the Rescue Mission on Martin Luther King Boulevard to the St. Vincent De Paul soup kitchen on Front Street to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless, particularly during the cold winter months, officials said.

The Cold Weather Emergency Shelter Program is a collaborative effort among Help Hotline, numerous community agencies and the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley. Between Dec. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, 263 people were served under Mahoning County’s Cold Weather Emergency Shelter Program, needing at total of 5,026 bed stays. Of the 263, 32 were children under 18, according to the Mahoning County Homeless Continuum of Care.
The group’s mission is to assist Mahoning County’s homeless and near homeless to obtain housing, economic stability and an enhanced quality of life through comprehensive services, said Erin Bishop, coordinator. The long-range goal is that within the next decade, all people and families in the county experiencing homelessness will have a permanent, safe, decent and affordable place to call home, she said.

The Rescue Mission provides shelter at night, and the Greater Youngstown Point, 1555 Belmont Ave., offers shelter from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as facilities for laundry, showers, lunch and television, said Otha Cooper, outreach support specialist.
Anyone who needs help should call the Help Hotline Crisis Center at (800) 427-3606 or 211.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

First Post

City Lights is a blog about the people in the Mahoning Valley who have had some connection with the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley. We want to include stories about our clients, staff, volunteers, collaborating agencies, and donors.

The Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley has been in the community since 1893, and still exists to serve and glorify God through Christ centered outreach of love and compassion that meets the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of disadvantaged men, women, and children without regard to race, color, or creed.

As you read this blog, we welcome you to comment and share your impressions and experiences. Please keep your comments polite and suitable for a general audience. Also know that no confidential information will be published on this blog. Names will be changed to safeguard privacy issues. So, welcome to the conversation!