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Union Rescue Mission starts charging homeless

June 2, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Union Rescue Mission prides itself on helping the poorest of the poor of Los Angeles' homeless.

For years the motto at most homeless shelters has been "three hots and a cot for free." However the mission says they are seeing more homeless than ever, and that's taxing their limited resources.

Budget problems are forcing the mission to make some changes. Union Rescue is the first mission in L.A. to launch a new initiative charging $7 for an overnight stay. It is a move driven largely by a dramatic drop in giving.

"Two hundred people paying $7, $5 of that comes to us," said Union Rescue Mission CEO Andy Bales. "That's $1,000 a day. So that's $30,000 a month of the $1.4 million a month that we need to raise to operate this place."

Union Rescue has also cut its three free meals a day to one meal for those not staying at the mission. Some of those staying at the mission say they don't think it is right that a mission is charging those that it's supposed to be helping.

"A lot of people had to leave because they couldn't pay," said Sheila Cage who is staying at Union Rescue. "So I'm fortunate, a lot of us are, that I get SSI and Social Security. I thank God my dad, he's dead now, that I get that."

"A lot of people do not want to pay," said Shafar Khaliqu who is staying at the mission. "They have $200 in a G-IRA, so how are they going to pay $210 if they have $200 in G-IRA?"

Bales has been fighting for years to begin the fee program, but it wasn't until April that he got the go-ahead.

He says the focus is on those who have the ability to move forward and out of homelessness, boosting their self-esteem and preparing them for the future by putting $2 of the $7 fee into a savings account for when they leave.

"People feel better about themselves when they pay their own way," said Bales. "It affirms their dignity and it really helps them get ready to pay rent and be responsible."

Now more missions across the country are adopting a fee-based approach, arguing that free services really don't motivate people to take responsibility for their lives.

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