Light of Life Rescue Mission

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.

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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

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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)

HEARTH

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Have I mentioned lately what an encouragement it is to work on this blog?  Nearly every week I meet with and learn about people who recognized a need and worked at creating a plan to meet that need.  Some of these organization are small – just starting out – while others are well-established here in the area.  Some focus on a niche need, while others confront huge problems with the hope of making lasting changes.  HEARTH probably fits better into that latter category.  They have a beautiful, clean, multi-building campus in the North Hills where they work to live up to the acronym from which their name is derived.  Homelessness Ends with Advocacy, Resources, Training, and Housing.

HEARTH is categorized as transitional housing. They provide apartment, sometimes for as long as two years, for families.  These families are almost always headed by a female who is either homeless or fleeing domestic violence situation.  This service alone would be a worthwhile mission.  A huge percentage of shelters and long-term transitional programs are set up for single adults, but what happens when there are one, or two, or even four children who find themselves in the same situation as their adult caregiver?  To provide a safe, clean location for the entire family to remain together while Mom takes the steps necessary to return them all to a place of stability is exactly what is needed.

And that is what you’ll find at HEARTH  Yes, there are 20 fully-furnished apartments categorized as transitional housing available to families in need.  But as the organization seek to fulfill its stated purpose HEARTH’s program provides so much more than just shelter from the storm.  Program participants have to be motivated to become self-sufficient.  Weekly case management meetings help the head of the family plan and then achieve the necessary educational and vocational training for lifting the family out of poverty.  Additionally, regular life skills classes at the facility provide a variety of other types of training that is important for leading a family that will thrive.

The facility itself contains all the amenities that help create both a home while living there and success one it become time to move on.  On the grounds there is a learning center, childcare room, playground, and sports court for the kids, while the head of household has access to a computer lab, exercise room, food pantry, clothing closet, and a little store for paper products, toiletries, and the like.  HEARTH goes to great lengths to feel like a home and not a shelter.  While there are some rules and restrictions for the safety of everyone in the program, participants are free to come and go as they seek to establish, or reestablish, a normal life for themselves and their children.

Since the program’s founding in 1998, they have seen unquestioned success.  84% of their families have gone on to permanent housing, 75% to full-time employment; 88% increased their educational levels, and 89% increased their income.  when you consider the fact that these numbers also represent children who’s circumstances have improved because of what HEARTH offers, it’s easy to see why this program has such a strong reputation.

Want to help?

HEARTH provides a variety of opportunities for volunteer help.  Things like providing transportation, mentoring, teaching a life skills class, organizing one of the pantries, and joining a committee to help with event planning are just some of the available options for individuals or groups.  To learn more, please head over to the organization’s website and fill out the prospective volunteer’s form.

Both in-kind and financial donations are also accepted and greatly appreciated.  If you’re considering an in-kind gift, please coordinate through the following link to make sure the items are appropriate and timely.  Financial gifts are always appropriate and timely, but perhaps now more than ever.  Starting in 2017, HEARTH will lose about 420K in federal funding because Allegheny Country is no longer directing that money towards transitional housing.  So if you are able to give, or especially if you are able to advocate for transitional housing, please connect with HEARTH so that those resources can be best utilized.

Finally, HEARTH hold four major fundraising events throughout the year as a means of promoting their mission and raising money to maintain the program.  The next event will be Hops for HEARTH, a beer-tasting event held downtown in April.  Ive been assured that it is both a good time and serves a good purpose.  Please consider attending, becoming a sponsor, or helping out if April 16th is free on your calendar.