Long before I ever lived in Pittsburgh or worked with folks who had experienced homelessness, I remember riding into the city with my Dad to go to a Pirates game. As we approached the stadium I saw men who looked as though they had experienced some of the hardest things that life can offer hanging out along Western Avenue. I didn’t really have a point of reference to know what was going on at that time. What had happened? Why were they here? How could we help?
Fast forward 30-plus years, and I’m now a Northside resident. The answer to “what happened” is very large and very complex. But the answer to “why are they here” and “how can we help” could be found right there on Western Avenue. The Light of Life Rescue Mission has been working to serve the homeless and the hungry here in Pittsburgh for over 60 years now. While best methods for serving people and the Mission’s capacity to serve have changed and grown over the years, they continue to provide a home for the homeless, food for the hungry, and build disciples for the Kingdom of God.
That Christian commitment is indubitably foundational at Light of Life Rescue Mission. There is a chapel, studies, and prayer. But a different faith, or a lack of faith, in no way precludes someone from receiving the help that he or she needs. Fellowship is available to people who use the services here, but it is not forced on them.
Speaking of services, Light of Life has expanded to provide a number of different services to members of the community. The Meal Ministry is often a person’s first introduction to what the Rescue Mission can offer. Breakfast and dinner are served seven days a week to not only program participants, but to the community at large. Anyone who is hungry, is welcome. Last year they served over 200,000 meals with the help of dedicated volunteers, generous donors, and an amazing kitchen staff.
There are also 22 beds dedicated to emergency shelter for men in the community who might need it. Beyond having a safe place to sleep, the men are provided with shower facilities, clean clothes and access to case managers. Staying in the emergency shelter is often a first step towards one of the more structured programs offered through Light of Life to help men reestablish a life that isn’t marked by housing instability.
For men, the Light of Life Rescue Mission currently offers three different long-term programs tailored to the specific needs of the participants. The eight bed Housing and Employment program provides stable housing, case management and connection to a variety of employment, educational, housing, and medical services to help prepare the men to work and live on their own again.
The Year Long Recovery Program has 30 beds and is set up in 4 phases for men who have been struggling with addiction. Here community and a variety of therapies work hand-in-hand to support the men’s sobriety and prepare them to transition back into society. Additionally, there are 8 more beds dedicated to mental health. This program operates alongside the Recovery Program, but also provides dedicated mental healthcare and is available for a longer time frame to ensure the stability of the participants.
Knowing there are also needs among single mothers and their children, Light of Life also established a Women and Children’s program. They are able to provide comprehensive care and help fitted to the specific needs of the women and families. Services include: housing in a local apartment, transportation, childcare, intensive counseling, education, and training, as well as the opportunity to heal and become part of a community that will allow them to grow as mothers and help them return to independent living when the time is right.
How to Help
I really want to emphasize just what an important part of our community Light of Life has been over the last sixty years. Thousand of Pittsburgh Residents have received help and love by entering these doors. If you’d like to join in with their work, I’d of course recommend all the usual ways. Please give, volunteer, and pray.
Specifically, the most pressing needs right now are for Large, XL and XXL size men’s socks and underwear (no briefs) as well as razors and deodorant. For single or small groups of volunteers, the kitchen always needs help with preparing and serving meals.
Eye of the Needle
Something that significantly changed in the way that Light of Life served people over the last 10-15 years has been the way our region has experienced what is commonly called the “Opioid Epidemic”. At some point I’ll share my own personal story about this, but for now, I’d really encourage you to watch this video and familiarize yourself with the way heroin has damaged the lives of thousands around Pittsburgh and made caring for the homeless a much more desperate situation.
(Special thanks to Michael Ray for the use of the cover photo)