As Director of the Homeless Guest Services Program at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, I think you will be surprised to learn that I am the only staff member who is solely devoted to our homeless guests. Every night we feed over 100 people and provide showers and shelter, plus breakfast in the morning. How can I do this alone? I don’t!
First, I have a counterpart from the Men’s Program staff. He helps with the homeless guests while also supervising the 45 men in our 12-month Residential Recovery Program. Here’s the best part – those residents do all the cooking, set-up and clean-up for meals. Another group handles the guest check-in process and another organizes clothing donations.
Second, most of the other necessary jobs are done by the homeless guests themselves, whom we refer to as our “volunteer monitors.” Eight men and five women participate in this effort. They welcome newcomers, tag and store baggage, wash bed linens, clean dorms, oversee showers, clean bathrooms, monitor meal times, and serve as the eyes and ears at the gates and on the patio. They are often the first to alert me of a potential problem or someone in need.
Most homeless guests can stay only a short time at the Rescue Mission because we are an emergency shelter. I assist these guests by referring them to other community resources and by helping them plan for when they leave us. The volunteer monitors are granted an extended stay in exchange for their work. They eat meals with the staff so they can work when their peers arrive.
Many interesting people pass through our doors needing a helping hand. I would like to share the stories of three of our homeless guest volunteer monitors. Enjoy!
Homeless Guest Services Director
Cynthia is 56 and came to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission for the first time in December 2007. “I was broken and had lost both my parents,” Cynthia said. She had just $27 in her pocket and was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to find a place to eat, shower and sleep. She discovered all of these things at the Rescue Mission along with unexpected love. Cynthia secured employment and a place to live, but these came to an end and she returned to the Mission in 2011.
Cynthia said that she was referred to as “stupid, slow and ignorant” throughout her life, but she enrolled in college at Santa Barbara City College and was diagnosed with dyslexia. “It’s not a disease but a different ingredient to put in my recipe of life,” she quips. Cynthia just completed her first year of college with a 4.0 GPA.
Cynthia is a source of encouragement to the other Rescue Mission guests as she attends college and shares her perspective on their collective circumstances. “I tell the women that we are all books and we are all bestsellers. We are on different chapters, but when people open these books they don’t want to deal with this chapter. They close the book and put us in a yard sale for 25 cents. But that’s okay because sooner or later someone will pay 25 cents, open up the book, and find out we are priceless.”
Carl McQueen walked a path he calls “Entertaining Angels” on his way to Santa Barbara.
Carl is a soft-spoken man who often refers to his faith as he talks. Born in Louisiana, his Baptist grandparents were adamant about him going to church. But they also taught him that he would have personal experiences that would show him that something higher than himself exists.
Indeed, when he was in San Diego in May, he had a personal crisis and through it, heard the call to leave that city and walk to Santa Barbara. And he did. He says he saw beautiful things along the way that would be missed by car or train, and he had experiences that proved the truth of his grandparents’ teaching. He arrived at Easter time, after entertaining angels along the way.
Shortly after he arrived at the Rescue Mission, Carl became a volunteer. He says he always tries to be cordial and practice the spiritual gifts of patience, faith, and kindness. He likes having a schedule and responsibilities. He says he sleeps better at night knowing he has helped people.
Carl recently received news that his serious vision problem cannot be cured. Despite this devastating news, he is looking ahead, trusting that this most recent roadblock can be overcome with faith in the grace of God.
Sheila lived in southern California taking care of her father until he passed away. The family sold his home, and she found herself without a place to live. She became lonely and moved to Santa Barbara in 2010 to live close to her son and daughter. Sheila came here with the hope of securing a good job and a place to live. Unfortunately, she experienced great difficulty finding work and sought shelter at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. Her children were in college and she didn’t want to burden them. “If the Mission wasn’t here I don’t know what I would have done,” Sheila remembers.
At one point, Sheila did find work as a live-in housekeeper, but it did not last long and she returned to the Rescue Mission. Although the job was short-lived, she discovered how much she enjoys housekeeping and helps out by contributing daily with laundry service at the Mission. Sheila is 60 and looking toward her future. She shares, “I’m not hopeless –– I know I’m going to make it.”