Should Homelessness be Escaped or Enabled?

By Ron Strom and Mary Lou Thomason

Editor’s Note: This column first appeared in the Eagle in 2021. It has been updated for today’s ongoing debate over homelessness in Grants Pass.

The Grants Pass Gospel Rescue Mission has helped people leave homelessness behind and become contributing members of our community since 1984. Today, we are fully committed to continuing this work in 2022 and beyond.

Unfortunately, many people in Grants Pass do not understand what we do at the Mission and why we do it. This has produced many myths. We’d like to dispel these myths here and educate the community about the success our residents achieve.

Myth No. 1: “The Mission is not truly a public shelter; it only accepts people who agree with its religious beliefs.”

Fact: The Grants Pass Gospel Rescue Mission is open to any member of the public who wants help to leave homelessness behind for good.

There is no “religious test” for entrance – only a desire to change the behaviors and habits that caused homelessness and a willingness to abide by the requirements of the Mission.

Myth No. 2: “The Mission requires residents to obey ‘strict’ rules, making it impractical for most homeless to be accepted into the program.”

Fact: What some consider “strict” others consider life-changing – and even freeing. When being homeless is worse for an individual than submitting to the rules of a group living environment, then that person is ready to come in and start on a path of real change.

Something as simple as getting a good night’s sleep can do wonders toward helping someone in need begin a new life.

Myth No. 3: “The Mission forces people to convert to Christianity.”

Fact: The Mission is a Christian organization, and Christianity teaches that conversion cannot happen by force. We do require daily chapel attendance but only to educate our residents about the Bible, the single most influential book in Western culture, and explain why a Christian would voluntarily help a homeless stranger. Residents are encouraged to explore ideas in dialogue even if they are contrary to Christian concepts, but to do so with respect and courtesy.

Myth No. 4: “The Mission’s rule against smoking is unrealistic and cruel, and is the biggest barrier to people entering the program.”

Fact: In any given year, less than 10% of those who leave the Mission do so because of a disagreement with or failure to comply with our tobacco policy. Of those who do, one-third of them will come back and try our program a second time. In other words, for every ten homeless people you see on the street, at least nine of them can and will do well with our program, including the nicotine cessation part of it.

Myth No. 5: “The Mission requires ID in order to stay.”

Fact: To the contrary, the Gospel Rescue Mission actively helps individuals acquire identification, including birth certificates, Social Security cards, state ID cards and driver’s licenses.

Myth No. 6: “The Mission receives taxpayer funding.”

Fact: The Mission is 100% voluntarily supported by our community: individuals, families, churches and foundations. It receives zero state or federal tax dollars and therefore is not bound by bureaucratic rules, formulae or hoops to jump through.

We measure success as someone leaving the Mission employed and moving to transitional housing or an apartment. Over the last four years, nearly 500 residents have achieved that goal! In fact, this year two ladies who successfully went through our program together purchased a house in Grants Pass.

All food served at the Mission is either donated or purchased outright. No food is procured through government-funded agencies like the Food Bank. The Mission serves over 85,000 meals to residents every year.

Myth No. 7: “The Mission doesn’t want a tent village to open in Grants Pass because it doesn’t want the competition.”

Fact: We aren’t opposed to shelter programs and have worked cooperatively with several nonprofit organizations that help the poor over the years. However, we are opposed to any program or facility that enables people to continue in homelessness and the behaviors that caused it. Whatever we as a community accommodate, we will get more of.

If we make it more comfortable for the homeless to camp in Grants Pass, we’ll get more people doing just that. On the other hand, if we make it more advantageous to leave homelessness behind, we’ll see more people doing that.

The City of Grants Pass is considering various ways to address homelessness and vagrancy in our area. If a tent village is opened where some addictions are allowed, it will further enable homelessness in Grants Pass by making it more comfortable.

Solving Homelessness Isn’t Easy

The reasons people become homeless are varied and complex. The only proven way to end homelessness is to get to the root of the behaviors that lead to it, and to help people transform their lives for their good and the good of our community. We’ve been doing that for years here on Foundry Street and will continue to be a part of the solution for those willing to leave homelessness and hopelessness behind.

Would you like to reduce homelessness in Grants Pass by helping homeless people become productive members of our community? Visit our website to learn how you can support the work of our Mission.

Thank you!

Ron Strom is chairperson of the Grants Pass Gospel Rescue Mission Board of Directors. Mary Lou Thomason is a former Board member.