LA rescue mission CEO helps fight homelessness despite flesh-eating disease

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A rescue mission CEO with a flesh-eating disease he contracted in the streets of Los Angeles, calls for others in the community to help fight homelessness.

Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission said part of his body is already gone. With diabetes, a history of heart troubles, a transplanted kidney and a lowered immune system, he works on Skid Row at his peril.

"I was somewhat blindsided by three flesh-eating diseases," said Bales. "It nearly took me out. It nearly took my kidney."

He suspects it entered through a wound on his foot after walking through Skid Row one day, handing out water to those he calls "his precious people." They have no place to bathe. The gutter is their toilet. And the sidewalks are teeming with bacteria.

Bales contracted what is called Charcot Foot, a condition that afflicts diabetics, people on the street and lepers. His foot now is useless and may have to be amputated. He said he learned of a recent visitor to the Mission who was even worse off.

"His foot was one stage beyond mine," said Bales. "It was completely black."

Bales said he faced a choice: to suffer at home with pain, or endure it at his job. As the homeless population has exploded, he must raise $50,000 a day to provide meals for 2,000 people a day and housing for over 800.

It barely makes a dent in a population that has increased a stunning 85 percent over the last two years, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

From a wheelchair, Bales said he must continue the battle. He is heartened by Tuesday's commitment from L.A.'s elected leaders for $100 million dollars to help people on the street and calls for others to join the campaign.

"We need to decentralize Skid Row and get the people away from this environment, and we need to clean up this environment," Bales said while looking at the protective boot on his deformed foot.

"I feel I am called to do this work," he said. "As weak as I am, I was placed here to do this work."

As Bales summoned his strength, hoping a City of Angels does the same, he continued, "We need to have a heart that says I am not going to let my precious neighbors die on the streets of skid row any longer."
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