By John Grossi
It’s quite the experience to walk the stretch of Pacific Ave. in Long Beach between 12th and 14th streets alongside Jeff Levine. One I’ll never forget. Because I know exactly how I would have felt walking it alone: Scared, judgmental, out of place…
But those feelings didn’t surface - not next to Jeff Levine, the new director of the Long Beach Rescue Mission. The two-block stretch, smack dab in a zip code that lives under the extreme poverty level and also happens to house Long Beach Rescue Mission’s facilities, is a living, breathing, image of hope when you see it through Jeff’s eyes and heart.
The man is a celebrity among area denizens. As he walks down the street, many current, former, and maybe even future residents of the Long Beach Rescue Mission are eager to shake his hand and say, “Thank you.” It’s like they can see his heart. Around Jeff, you are constantly reminded that the down-on-their-luck folks are “humans, not problems.”
“Homelessness isn’t a problem, it’s people,” Levine explains. “People are complex, and relational, and refuge seeking, and psychological, and there’s no silver bullet. It takes wrap-around services, relationships they can trust, and time. Just getting everyone into housing doesn’t fix the root problems.”
What is the Long Beach Rescue Mission?
The Long Beach Rescue Mission (LBRM) is a 156-bed shelter for men and a 50-bed shelter for women and children. They provide case management services and have a one-year discipleship recovery called the New Life Program.
LBRM is a Christian-based faith organization that does not receive any government funding, allowing it to operate as a completely independent entity that can adapt to the changing needs of the troubled community it serves. Those who elect to go into the 1-year program are taught to read the bible and trust in Jesus, along with participating in a curriculum that teaches life skills, soft skills, and most importantly, addresses the underlying contributing factors to why a person experiences homelessness.
“The greatest indicator of whether a person will experience homelessness is childhood trauma,” continues Levine. “So while we talk about affordable housing and employment, I think we also need to talk about healing and hope for those who have been through significant trauma.”
Levine cites a major, university-published study that gave people a 10-question survey about childhood trauma. Questions range from “Were your parents divorced?” to “Did you live with a family member who suffered from mental illness or was incarcerated?”
The average score for those suffering from homelessness is 6 out of 10. Meaning many of those living out on the street have suffered 6 major childhood traumas. Especially in cases of drug and alcohol abuse (which afflicts many of those experiencing homelessness), LBRM realizes that in the case of “refuge-seeking,” it is important to address the root reasons of “why” people are seeking refuge in substances, if they are truly to kick the habit for good.
Understanding the Journey
When Chaplain Jeff Levine left his role as Lead Pastor at Bethany Church on Clark St. in East Long Beach to become the Executive Director of the Long Beach Rescue Mission in 2022, it was hardly an easy decision. In fact, Jeff doesn’t describe it as a decision at all, but a calling that stemmed from a dream he had about the mission. His vision and heart clarified when he helped LBRM’s administrative team fill the interim role during 2021, after a change in leadership.
“Not only did I feel a calling to come here, but I started to realize that there was no one better for this job than me,” said Levine. He was certainly well-qualified by his training, which includes a degree in theology from Biola, a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from University of Redlands, and a professional non-profit fundraising certificate from Boston University.
But more importantly, what makes him perfectly qualified for this particular job is his experience in understanding the residents of Long Beach Rescue Mission as the complicated humans they are. Jeff Levine has been in their shoes. He’s walked in their shoes as a child who suffered significant trauma; and as a young adult who spent 12 years addicted to meth and other drugs. And he’s been that human who “hit the proverbial rock-bottom and then got out a shovel and started digging lower.” Jeff Levine’s story of redemption is one that can uniquely touch the residents of LBRM and the people in this community, on which the LBRM’s donations depend. Jeff Levine is a reminder to all that as long as a person is still breathing, that person can heal through the powerful remedy of hope, faith, and love.
Reasons to Give
This is an exciting time for the Long Beach Rescue Mission. Their (over 200) beds have been perpetually full for years with thousands having completed the one-year New Life Program. The program sees 87% of graduates in stable housing 1 year after completion - a staggeringly successful rate for this field. LBRM has touched the hearts of thousands of families through decades of service. Chances are you already know someone in our community who gives to this organization - its individual donor list is expansive.
While Jeff Levine has been working with LBRM in some capacity for over a decade, the board’s introduction of his role as Executive Director has come alongside lofty goals and plans for the organization.
When the LBRM buildings were built in the ’80s there were no Americans with Disability Act (ADA) laws. One of the biggest problems the mission faces today is its inability to serve people with disabilities who are experiencing homelessness, which research shows is 37% of the unhoused population in Long Beach.
Through Levine’s strength of conviction and connections throughout the community (from his past 5 years as Lead Pastor at Bethany), the LBRM has already received donations to build both a 15-bed home specifically for men with disabilities as well as another 50-bed shelter for women and children that is ADA-accessible. This will greatly increase their ability to assist a major portion of Long Beach community’s homeless population that they currently have to turn away. LBRM already owns the property and is working to build out construction plans for the future shelter. Your donation this year will go toward the first three years of operations for these new shelters, and general improvements to the existing facilities, which face their share of wear-and-tear after more than 30 years of use.
A Light in our City
Levine is excited to not only expand the services that assist those experiencing homelessness but also work on homeless prevention measures, not limited to but including a community center for the 90813 zip code where the community can hold meetings, provide afterschool care, and provide a safe space for all.
“I keep saying this over and over. Our mission is to be a light to our city. That’s at the heart of who we are. We want to be a light to those experiencing homelessness and we also want to be a light to those who aren’t.” says Levine.
The complex issues that face those experiencing homelessness keep changing and there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue. But the Long Beach Rescue Mission is doing everything in its power to be there for all of those individuals who seek to change their lives for the better no matter what their history and trauma.
“That’s part of the complexity of homelessness,” says Levine. “You can’t make someone want to change their life. You have to take into consideration the natural human trait of refuge seeking in the face of trauma. Drugs and alcohol abuse are often a byproduct of trauma... no one wakes up and says I want to train-wreck my life and become homeless.”
Answering the Right Prayers
You can’t make someone want to change their life, but you can make sure that if they do, there is somewhere they can go that meets them where they are, with no judgement, sees them as a human, and helps introduce them to a proven path to change their life.
Levine remembers his own journey at the height of his addiction, when he prayed to God to please not let him wake up the next day. Thankfully, that prayer wasn’t answered. A few weeks later, completely broken and feeling he had absolutely nothing left in the world, Levine got down on his knees and prayed that Jesus would enter his life. “It wasn’t some crazy white light moment. But I knew I finally wanted to change. I didn’t want this to be my life anymore. I got up the next morning and started reading the bible. That was my change.”
Now, 20 years later, that despairing man, who had absolutely nothing, is married with children, owns a home, and works as the Executive Director of one of Long Beach’s most important community organizations. He got teary-eyed just retelling the story. “I still can’t believe this is my life.”
Even when they’ve hit rock bottom, you cannot make someone else want to change. But you can help make sure, when someone does want to change their life, their prayer is answered.
Jeff Levine and his team at the Long Beach Rescue Mission invite you this “giving season” to help LBRM continue to answer more and more of those prayers for the people of Long Beach.
To learn more or donate please visit: https://lbrm.org/