If you want to tell the story of homelessness, you must do two things. Spend two nights in a shelter as reporter Nate Green did. And talk to Rev. Bill Roscoe.
We did both, and more, as the newsroom embarked on this project.
Could Nate stay overnight at the Lighthouse Rescue Mission? We didn’t want to take a bed away from someone and we would pay our own way.
Would people open up to a reporter and talk about why they don’t have a home? Would they share their stories?
Director Chris Ellison was pretty sure men would open up.
Nate starts his story today with a first-person account. It will give you an insight few have.
The Lighthouse is an affiliate of Boise Rescue Mission Ministries.
Ellison and Roscoe met with me 10 days ago. They are living examples of what Jesus preached: Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Early-day gospel missions operated on a simple mission: Go to the lost. Preach. Heal. Cleanse. Cast Out. Freely give.
Today’s mission is better defined:
n Rescue: Pull people to safety from adverse conditions, and from choices and habits that lead to damaged health and death
n Redemption: Present people with a gospel that is about life transformation in Jesus
n Rehabilitation: Help people break the bonds of addiction and desperate behavior, and experience a life of healing and wholeness
n Re-assimilation: Prepare people to dwell in community, and to have meaningful roles that lead to stability
Since the economy spiraled out of control, missions see more first-time homeless people as a direct result of unemployment. In 2011, 2,400 people at the shelters had never had a job before — they have low or no skills when it comes to keeping a job, let alone re-entering the workforce.
They’re often drug and/or alcohol dependent, have poor employment attendance, eventually losing their jobs and their homes.
But they lose more than that. They become disaffiliated — no church, no family, often wearing out their welcome.
Daily chapel with gospel readings and messages are not required, but encouraged.
Nate’s story today and next Sunday talks about the different programs offered at the shelter and efforts made to help the homeless overcome their addictions.
But shelters are much more.
Guests have access to job preparedness services, a learning center, and shelter staff help people make connections. Consider the shelter a huge resource center, wired into all kinds of programs that can help on their road to recovery.
Counselors coach men on job hunting skills, conduct mock interviews and send them out dressed for the part, taking from a room filled with racks of dress shirts, ties, shoes, slacks and toiletries for proper hygiene.
Those who can’t re-enter the job market receive individualized assistance, helping the elderly or physically and mentally disabled to get their Medicare or Medicaid benefits.
It can take nine months on the short end and up to three years.
“We hold their hand and walk them down the street, helping them cut through the red tape to access their benefits,” Roscoe said.
As Nate explains, shelter guests, unless they are enrolled in long-term programs, don’t hang out at the facility. But they can eat three times a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Remarkably, the Boise Rescue Mission and the Lighthouse don’t rely on government funds because nobody wants limitations on how the gospel is shared.
About 80 percent of the operating costs for Boise Rescue missions come from individuals. Organizations and churches make up the balance. The 2011 operating budget for Lighthouse Rescue Mission was $481,580 with all but $100,967 going to personnel costs.
Annual food costs for the Nampa mission are only $10,000, even though 50,854 meals were served in 2011 at the Nampa location and 725 food boxes were given to non-homeless community members.
“We are blessed with the most generous people. … Recently someone bought 500 three-piece Kentucky Fried Chicken dinners for everyone,” Roscoe said.
There’s so much more. Community Editor Jon Meyer’s story Thursday explains how important donations are for daily operations in Nampa and Boise.
ROSCOE: THE GODFATHER
Most people know Roscoe as Rev. Bill. I think he’s the “Godfather” of Treasure Valley’s homeless. Reporter Tabitha Simenc wrote an in-depth piece on Roscoe for today’s Community section.
As I toured the facility, Roscoe showed me the room that’s being prepared for homeless veterans.
“Are you a veteran?” I asked.
“Yes! I’m a self-described deranged Vietnam vet.”
He enlisted in the Army in 1969 and served in 70-71 as a combat engineer, five months as an infantryman in as a radio operator and squad leader.
When he came home, he received word that his father had cancer.
“He lived for five months and I was devastated by his suffering and death. I was also then responsible for my mom and younger sister. I drank a lot and upon discharge from the Army, I really became a violent, unruly man. I was not a Christian when I was in Vietnam.
“Looking back 40 years, it is clear that I had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”
It’s no wonder that Roscoe understands the homeless — especially the addicted — so well and why the gospel is such a strong tool.
“My conversion to Christianity was the beginning of my recovery, but even now, I know that certain things, situations and even music can get my mind going back to some very unhappy memories. So, as the Bible tells us, I guard my mind, and do my best to stay focused on those things that are true, praise worthy and godly. I do not have ‘daily struggles,’ or live with white knuckles, and I do give God the praise and glory for restoring my mind.
“I’ll never forget Vietnam or the heroes I was privileged to know and serve with. My personal problems might have all been avoided if I had stayed sober.
For more on the Homeless, not Hopeless special report visit: idahopress.com/homeless