On April 1, the Union Rescue Mission (URM) on skid row in Los Angeles started a new policy. It was not an April fool’s joke, as many homeless people who use URM’s services had hoped. CEO Rev. Andy Bales and his team started charging $7 per night for beds (the first three nights are free) and cut down the free meals for non-residents from three a day to one. Two dollars, out of every seven, go into a savings account that guests get when they leave the mission. Born out of necessity and budget constraints, the changes were also made to inspire clients to participate in efforts to get their lives back on track. There’s an alternative for people who don’t want to or can’t pay: they can enroll in one of URM’s free long-term recovery programs with classes in finance, relationships and counseling. At first, angry residents vacated URM’s 300 beds. But now, 200 are occupied by those who appreciate the changes and the new, quieter way of life they seem to have brought to skid row. What are the pros and cons of URM’s new sustainability plan? Is it fair to charge homeless people for mission services? Does charging for a bed inspire more appreciation and respect? Or might it prevent those most in need from seeking help?
Rev. Andy Bales, CEO Union Rescue Mission