Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More than a Free Meal

I had two expectations when I sat down to talk with Jim Echement about the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, and both turned out to be wrong.  First, I thought I’d hear that the economic crisis of the last three years has caused a significant increase in poverty and homelessness.  While that may be true in terms of national statistics, and while the Rescue Mission has seen some increase in traffic, Echement doesn’t see economics as the primary problem.  Rather, he suggests that for most people, homelessness and persistent economic struggle are not matters of economic conditions so much as of personal trauma.   That may reflect his organization’s mission to help people overcome significant personal obstacles, to in effect change themselves, in order to move toward a more economically stable life. 

But that leads to my second misconception.  I had assumed that the Rescue Mission would have a goal of providing life-changing assistance to anyone who is homeless and in need.  In some ways, that’s true.  They provide meals to anyone who walks in the door, every day.  But when it comes to helping people get off the streets permanently, Echement suggests, they focus on those who are ready to make a change.   To qualify for their “Second Chance” program, which provides long-term housing, training, and support, participants must agree to abide by some clear and rather strict rules.  That helps to instill discipline, and that, in turn, helps people discover that they have more control over their own circumstances than they might have thought. 

From my perspective, both parts of the Rescue Mission’s work matter – providing food and shelter for those in immediate need, regardless of their circumstances, and helping people transform their lives.  Those are challenging goals at any time, and all the more so these days.

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