The Eugene Mission held it’s grand opening and ribbon cutting of the new women’s center in early May, 2013. It was a grand time and an emotional time, this project had finally come to fruition for them.
The officials made their speeches, Mayor Kitty Piercy was there as well also saying a few words. After the ceremony and prayer, the ribbon was cut and the doors were officially opened, welcoming the public. The center has been needed for some time. When I think of the homeless, my first thought goes to men but there are many many homeless women out on the streets as well. This is part two of my homeless series. You can read part one here.
As you walk into the new women’s center, you are greeted by a light open space with vaulted ceilings. To the left you will find church benches for people to visit, to the right around the corner is the chapel. On the other side is a small kitchen.
There is a little “shop” or closet for the women to choose what they need, anything from toiletries to undergarments, hair brushes to makeup and clean clothes. They are given a bed and a safe place to sleep if there is room, meals and a shower. The smallest creature comforts we may take for granted.
I walked down the hallway to the sleeping quarters and on the wall were brushed nickel coat hooks lining the hallway. That small touch could bring the biggest comfort. The dorm was filled with row’s of bunk beds made from pine, the smell of “new” clung to the air, each was made with a beautiful brand new hand sewn quilt, fresh sheets and two pillow’s. I was overwhelmed at what I saw. I had no idea. It simply did not cross my mind before that this many women were homeless. It is hard to un-know things after you become aware of them.
After we toured the women’s facility, we were lead over to the mother’s and children’s building, a separate and secure space at the mission. This is for women with smaller children. We were greeted by warm and friendly staff members as we entered the building. There is a playground out back, children playing inside. Reality hit me hard when we rounded the corner into the sleeping quarters. There are single beds throughout, low to the ground, all nicely made with a crib or bassinet snuggled right next to each of them. On each bed there was a stuffed animal.
When the mother’s and children come to the mission, they are given pajamas, fresh bedding and stuffed animals for the children. Often times, this is all they have. Some of these women and children come from abusive situations, leaving with only the clothes they are wearing. Once they have gotten on their feet and are ready to leave the shelter, these gifts go with them. They become attached to them, these simple comforts of a normal life. I didn’t take any photographs; my heart was breaking at this point for these women and children. Although the dorm was empty while we were there, I could still feel their presence. I am unable to fathom what it must be like for them to ask for help at this level.
We left the mother’s and children’s facility and headed to the mens dorm. Our guide brought us into the lounge area, passing a secured area surrounded by floor to ceiling chicken wire type fencing with an attendant nearby. The men could check in their belongings for the day and not have to worry about it being stolen. There were a few men in the quiet lounge, the only sound in the room came from the small television that hung in the corner.
Our tour continued into the mission chapel. The mission does not have a lot of rules, but there are two major requests. The men are asked to attend services and they must be drug free. The chapel is dark; with only a little light coming in through the window’s. Our guide talked about their services and afterward we filed out the back door of the chapel, rounded a corner and headed upstairs, running into another group along the way as they descended. The stairs are very narrow, not meant for more than a single line at a time. We got a little bottle necked, but it worked out. The group coming down offered smiles as we passed each other, us unknowing of what we were about to encounter.
As soon as we walked into the mens dorm, I began to cry. There was just no way around it and to try to express the low in that room may fail me. It seemed as if there were endless white metal bunk bed after bunk bed after bunk bed. I tried to keep myself in check and not let the tears fall, but there was no way to contain them. I could only imagine how it had to feel for these men, MEN having to ask for help, needing help and climbing into these beds each night with their own thoughts, either of hopelessness or laying there hopeful. Surrounded by hundreds of other men, but alone. This cannot be what they envisioned for themselves, or what their mothers and fathers had envisioned for their future. I wondered about their family, did they have a wife and child in the other dorms. This room was only one of three. The men shower before bed, are given fresh pajamas and sleep in newly laundered beds each night.
We headed back the way we came in silence as the group before us had, down the narrow wooden stairway and into the dining hall. It too overwhelmed me. This room was big and held lunchroom style tables; with fixed round seats. On each table was a loaf of bread, sometimes two. All I could think of was “Our Daily Bread” while we stood there and listened to our host talk about the food and how many meals they serve each year. The majority of food is donated; the mission spending approximately $2,000 per month, serving 600 meals per day. The gardens on site help to supply food for the meals as well. The men eat their meals at a separate time than the women.
“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” – Matthew 14:16
Leaving the kitchen, we walked past the shower room. It too needs updating. Brown benches stacked upon each other against the wall. I could imagine the men taking a refreshing hot shower, thankful it was available to them.
Once we were back outside, our guide took us passed the gardens, stopping before a very large building. Inside this building is a “warehouse” that contains anything a person or family would need in order to set up a home. When people are able to get on their feet, not only does the mission help them to find jobs, and housing, they also help outfit the home. Free of cost.
We continued to the next building and this is where the people inside help others to get jobs, housing and things they need to get by in life. There are computers in order to help them look for jobs, the support is amazing. There is also a small area to be seen by a doctor.
Our guide thanked us for coming and we were left at that point to roam the mission grounds at our own pace. I headed for the garden. This space was created by the people and maintained by them. It is a space they can tend to, cultivate and eat from. I came across some glass containers sitting on the edge of a garden bed; vinegars the women were making, steeping in the summer sun. The flower garden is amazing. They have done such a wonderful job of it. It is serene and comforting as you stroll along the pathway, messages of hope and encouragement written on stones and pottery throughout the garden.
The summer heat began to get to me, the experience a little overwhelming I decided it was time for me to go. That day will be with me forever. I will never get the image of those beds out of my memory and I am so very thankful for what I have. Life can change for anyone, for the good or for the bad in an instant and we should not take a single moment for granted.
With the Christmas season upon us, we should all be thankful and know that there are others that are going without. There will always be people who are without a home and thankfully, there are places like the Eugene Mission and the supporters of such places that are there to help those less fortunate.
It all started in the 1950’s. Back then, the former Shield of Faith ministry operated a small mission on the second floor of an old store in downtown Eugene, where the Eugene Hilton stands today at Sixth Avenue and Willamette Street.
The Eugene Mission has grown over the years since the early 50′. When Shield of Faith ministry began serving, it was men only who would come for a warm meal and ministry in that second story floor. With no means to offer a warm place to sleep, the men were turned away at night. New development plans were drawn up for downtown Eugene, (which did not include the mission) the mission was homeless for a while as well until 1962. The mission found it’s permanent home in 1967, located on First Avenue and now sits on 7.5 acres of land and has 11 buildings on sight. The new women’s center can house 100 women each night, but for the time being only houses 65 because of limited staff.
They are in need of volunteers. The mission serves 600 people 24 hours every day on a staff of 25 with close to 400 people living on site. This includes the 240,000 meals served each year. As you can imagine, their needs are great. They are wanting to expand / remodel the mens shower area, which is estimated to cost approximately $80,000. The mission is in need of a passenger van to transport men and women to churches and other functions. Either by donation or at a reduced cost (they have $25,000 available in funds for this purchase). The building exteriors need upkeep and are due for paintings. They are looking for commercial businesses that may be able to help with this project by donations of time or material or by funds.
The mission depends on donations of all kinds and is broken down by their sources; Individual donors 80 percent, churches 8 percent; corporations 6 percent with the remainder of funding comes from grants and miscellaneous sources.
You can read in more detail set out by the Eugene Mission what their current needs are here.
Donations of all kinds are always welcome. They are never resold, but given to the recipients. To find our more about the Eugene Mission you can visit their website here.