Staff at the Youngstown Mission Lack Compassion

By Grapevine Bob

Editor’s Note: Bob Eubanks went to Youngstown and stayed in the Rescue Mission to investigate whether the stories that had been previously reported were true. He stayed in the shelter for a series of nights and then traveled around Youngstown. Part 1 of a series.

            I met a man who previously owned his own home, became homeless, came to Youngstown because he had heard about a place called the Rescue Mission. He had a medical condition called Diabetes Mellitus. One concern of a diabetic is the very slow rate at which they can recover from a cut or injury. Some diabetics have been known to have a foot or leg amputated because of gangrene setting in. Mike, while staying at the Rescue Mission one morning noticed his foot was very sore and swollen so he asked for some assistance in getting medical attention. Mike was told the address to the nearest hospital. It was raining heavily, and so Mike asked if someone could take him to the hospital.

            Mike said he had heard this Rescue Mission took in over a million and a half dollars in donations. Surely he thought that he could be transported to the hospital. He was wrong. Mike was told, “No transportation is available.” He heard one supervisor say, “We are not insured. Sorry, Pal.” “Well maybe since it’s raining so hard some one could give me a lift in a personal car”…”Sorry pal,” was given again in response.

            So Mike walked to the hospital. The next day at the hospital, the doctor ordered bed rest or elevation of the left foot. The doctor was attempting to keep pressure off of his left foot. Once he was back at the Rescue Mission, Mike showed his papers from the doctor to the bosses. “Oh yes, but after you are at the Rescue Mission five days you must join the staff as a worker unless you are employed.” Mike was told bed rest was out of the question and that he would be required to [do his] regular work assignment regardless of what the doctor said. So that he could stay in the shelter, Mike did his regular work over the next three days. He noticed the selling of his foot. Mike asked the Rescue Mission staff to call a nurse or doctor about his foot.

            The nurse who came regularly noticed the swelling and told Mike he should go to the hospital. Once again, the Mission could not provide transportation. The nurse on a return visit noted Mike had done nothing about his left foot and had not gone to the hospital. Mike was afraid that he would lose his spot in the shelter and so asked the nurse to be discreet.

            Somehow the nurse made some telephone calls, and cut through red tape. She called the hospital and talked to the doctor. She explained the situation, and the lack of transportation. A friend of the doctor provided the transportation to the hospital.

            Once at the hospital the doctor stated to Mike that he was within 2-3 days of losing the foot! Mike was admitted to the hospital. Upon his release he was able to work with a few people in Youngstown who helped him find a lovely new brick home that he could afford.

            How did he get this house? Mike says with a wink, “An ‘angel’ found this house for me!” And he is up walking on two feet now.

            I met another man, Skinny; with whom I struck up a conversation because he was from the same hometown. I left him at the Rescue Mission. He works days and cannot understand why the rules of the Rescue Mission cannot be change to help the situation of the homeless. Skinny works days, getting back at 4 or 5 p.m., but sometimes as late as 6 or 7 p.m. When he gets back to the Rescue Mission, he has to sit in the TV room because the call for beds does not come until 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. He takes a shower every night. Skinny does not get into bed until 10 p.m. At 5:30 a.m. in the morning, the staff wakes everyone up.

            Skinny said he saw a guy at the Rescue Mission on the next bunk doing black magic chanting. This guy was worshipping Satan. Skinny asked him why or how did he get into Satan worship? The guy, who at age 20 was homeless, says, “My mom spoon fed me religion. I rebelled. Now I worship Satan. I’ve got the right to religious freedom, don’t I?” It was ironic that a religious shelter would have a man who worships Satan staying in their bunks.

            Skinny said that the Rescue Mission has a forced religion program, regardless of your denomination, that he objects to. Skinny says, “I’m homeless, but not godless.” He just does not think that a person should have to practice a certain religion to stay in a shelter.

            Skinny was a resident at the Rescue Mission. He said that they have audio and video recorders which can be used to monitor the homeless men’s conversations. Skinny talks in whisper. The police came to the Rescue Mission three times that night to look for a suspect. “They always come here look at the homeless men and women who are unable to work and tell them to leave the Rescue Mission,” Skinny said. No matter what the weather conditions are like, and it does not matter that the individual does not have a place to go.

            I was told I could get some decent clothes from the Rescue Mission mail on the Wednesday that I was there. I was forced to just get on the Rescue Mission bus until 10 a.m. When I was about to take the bus, the day supervisor said, “You can not get clothes. Those clothes are for people in the program.” I asked, “Well how about if I go into the recreation room?” The staff member said that no, you’ve go to be in the program or on the staff to go to the rec room. I had to wonder whether the rules were made for homeless people or if homeless people were consulted about the rules?

            The story could not be done with out the help of two concerned professionals of the Youngstown community who must remain anonymous but provided me with a lot of help and insight.

            Perhaps due to the dismantling of welfare programs that were intended to protect the less fortunate and a shortage of affordable housing and the decline of jobs available in Youngstown there is a growing need for shelter. In Youngstown that is only one real emergency shelter and that is the Rescue Mission. One likes to think that the Mission is for the people and not that the people are there for the Mission to do fund raising around.

            When any group of people cohabitate there must be rules. But many of the rules at he Mission do not serve the people who stay there. And many of the people who I talked felt that the rules needed to be changed.

            Some people who contribute to the financial stability of the Mission would be quite surprised at how their dollar was cut. How much of donation dollar goes for the Rescue Mission programs which are centered around serving the homeless? And how much goes for overhead and fundraising?

            Well, the Rescue Mission has a Mission Mall, only men at Rescue Million are not eligible unless they’re in the program. After 5 days, you must go in the program, which is religion based housing program, and you must work at tasks to keep the shelter running. This seems like a good thing, but as I saw with Mike, what about the people who cannot work due to physical disability? If you are not in the religious based housing program you cannot go to the Rescue Mission Mall. I thought you should be able to get clothing right at the Mission and not have to travel all the way to the Mission Mall (across town).

            On Thursday, a man with his daughter came in with a donation of winter appeal – sweaters, hats, gloves and warm clothing. The staff directed him to a door where meals are served. This door cannot be opened without a key. The staff of Rescue Mission have to open the door. [A word about the staff: Many are rehabilitated formerly homeless people who do not have any training, have poor communication skills, and are not licensed social workers. They seem “insensitive” to the needs of the homeless. Any verbal exchange with a staff member of the Rescue Mission could result in immediate expulsion.]

            The donation was then given to a staff member in the staff only room. The rest of the Mission staff gathered around the staff member as he pulled clothing from bags, which started a commotion of snatch and grab among the staff. The staff circled around the donation bag and the homeless watched from the outside.

            The staff took first pick of the clothes, leaving the leftovers for the homeless. The Mission staff are also eligible to get clothes from Rescue Mission Mall and the 5 day shelter residents cannot.

            To the credit of the Rescue Mission, a supervisor took items of clothing from a staff member who had two or three items and said, “these are suppose to go to those in need.” The supervisor did not notice the other staff member who saw the supervisor coming and hid the clothing in order to keep his bounty.

            If this happens when donated clothing comes in, what happens with larger donation? I saw a great many things that disturbed me with the Rescue Mission. With an increasing need in the community, I saw a lack of concern by the staff of the Rescue Mission for those on the streets. I saw donations being used by the staff and the leftovers passed onto the homeless. I also saw people forced to work who were violating doctor’s orders.

Editor’s note: Grapevine Bob plans to continue his story in the next Grapevine about his week in the Rescue Mission shelter in Youngstown.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine NEOCH December 1998 – January 1999