Q&A: ONE MAN'S URGENT CALL TO THE COMMUNITY
In August, Jeff Levine, Executive Director of the Long Beach Rescue Mission, called LB908 Publisher John Grossi in a frenzy. “The time is now… We need full community support. Our shelters are completely full for the first time since the pandemic. We’re turning people away. We urgently need to do more and to build more. I need the community to understand that hope can’t wait and I need people experiencing homelessness to understand that hope is right here at the Long Beach Rescue Mission…”
Here is the ensuing Q&A conducted between the two as a result of that phone call:
LB908: Why can’t hope wait?
Jeff: I remember when I first began working at the [Long Beach Rescue] Mission, there was this guy named Taylor Tedesco who was around the meal service a lot. He would come get hot meals from us and I would ask him from time to time if he was thinking about joining our one-year program. And he’d always shake it off.
We got along really well and had a lot of great conversations, but I knew he suffered from alcoholism and had been homeless for years. One day the police showed up and said there was a body in a nearby alley that they were trying to identify. I walked over and there was Taylor lying face up in between the wall and the parking lot next to an empty bottle of vodka. His piercing blue eyes were wide open like he was looking at the sky. That solidified my sense of what’s at stake on a day-by-day basis. It really is life and death. It’s why hope can’t wait.
I also understand the concerns of the community. There’s an increase in crime. We hear the stories of someone going into a restaurant and stealing a phone off a table or grabbing food from a patron. Employees are scared to walk home. Or worse…on 2nd Street, someone stabbing a man with a screwdriver and the police had to shoot him… a knife attack on Long Beach Blvd…
I’m human too. I get the fear and I have the same concerns. I have a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old daughter. Before I became a father, I was aware of the crime but not as concerned for my safety. I hate that I look behind me when I walk past someone experiencing homelessness. I hate that that’s the way our life has become.
But I still shy away from talking about homelessness as a problem that has to be solved. It’s too complex. We see results by providing individuals with the opportunity to change their life. And that is an individual decision that they have to make. All we try to do with outreach is give hope to the people we meet.
LB908: Every time I talk to you, you use the word hope. It seems to be a core value of yours. What do you believe the power of hope is?
Jeff: There’s this great quote that says, ‘Poverty is not being without money, poverty is being without hope.’ When most people conceptualize hope, they often think of something they long for, but which might never become a reality. ‘I hope I’ll get this job… but I might not.’ Or ‘I hope my marriage can be saved but it’s possible that it might not.’
The biblical explanation of hope is ‘the confident expectation that God is going to move in a way, consistent with his character, that will bring about my flourishing.’ It’s a faith move, but think about the power in that. If someone loses the confident expectation that change is possible, that is devastating and leads to despair. For the people we serve, there is a need for the type of hope that is grounded in a belief that change is possible.
LB908: How do you give people hope?
Jeff: In thinking about our Search and Rescue ministry... the purpose is not to collect data or demographics. We are showing mercy by providing for their basic needs, and we are inviting people into a relationship of trust and accountability. You may not have hope for yourself right now, but we have hope for you.
Our outreach worker is a graduate of our program whose life has been forever changed by the gospel. I personally overcame a 12-year addiction where I had suicidal ideations and was totally broken. Jesus met me there and saved me. To think about my life now, as Executive Director of the Long Beach Rescue Mission… how could I not have the confident expectation of what Jesus can do for others?
LB908: Why do you feel the Long Beach Rescue Mission is so successful in helping people turn around their lives?
Jeff: I’ve already mentioned it but it’s so important. We are here to help people. We are not funded by the government; we are 100% funded by private donors, grants, and foundations. 87% of our donations come from individual local donors like your readers. And we don’t look at homelessness as a problem to solve, but as people to serve. We are here to help individual people turn their lives around. People who are made in the image of God, who have intrinsic value that is independent of anything they’ve done or anything that has happened to them.
Now there’s a lot of talk about affordable housing, which is definitely one part of the equation. But realistically, there’s a small percentage of people experiencing homelessness who are stable and ready to enter housing. The bigger percentage are those who need life skills, soft skills, addiction recovery, and more. As crazy as it sounds, if you take someone who’s been on the street for 17 years and put them into housing, they are often depressed. They’ve been pulled out of their community, as dysfunctional as it is, and experience anxiety, depression, and loneliness, and often return to the streets and addiction for relief. They’re not prepared to sustain themselves in housing.
85% of the graduates of our one-year program that we assist into housing are still stably housed one year later. It’s because we have given them a space to grow. We give them a place to stay and eat WHILE they’re given a context in which to recover.
I think the two-faceted type of shelter we offer is important too. There is a need for a high tolerance/low barrier shelter… and to an extent, we provide that. If you come in needing shelter and you’re on drugs or alcohol, we’re going to bring you in for the night.
But we are a high expectation, high accountability shelter. If you’re going to continue staying with us, you need to be working on your life. We’re going to provide you everything you need to overcome your struggles and we’re going to hold you accountable to pursue a bettter life.
It saddens me that as a society we’ve largely lost that sense of love and compassion to tell someone, “It’s not okay that you’re using drugs. It’s not okay that you’re slowly destroying yourself.”
LB908: So how can people in the community help your cause?
Jeff: Our biggest problem at the Long Beach Rescue Mission is that we unfortunately need to grow. Our shelters are full, and we are turning people away every day. We are fortunate to have some amazing donors who are helping us build a new shelter for men with disabilities, and we have plans for an all-new women’s and children’s shelter. We have women and children sleeping in their cars around the mission waiting for a bed to open up. We need help ensuring that future operating costs for those new shelters are met. And there is also so much more we would like to be doing.
I’ve come across people who said they see those living on the street and want to help but don’t know what to do. My response is ‘Partner with us! We know what to do! We know what works. We know what doesn’t work. We know what helps and we know what can be done! Partner with us!’
LB908: What’s the hardest thing for people to understand about the Long Beach Rescue Mission?
Jeff: I will speak to the misperception that in order to receive services at the shelter you have to be a Christian, or attend a bible study, etc. We are a mercy ministry. No matter what your views are, we are going to provide you with what you need. Yes, we are going to invite you into our Christian hope and demonstrate Christian love, but you don’t need to participate in any religious services to receive help.
LB908: Is there anything else you want to say to the Long Beach community?
Jeff: I know it [the issues surrounding homelessness] can seem overwhelming, but hope, the possibility of redemption is here. We see redemption for people in our shelters every day here. Our staff - 60% of them have come through the program and they’re leading these ministries. Not everyone is equipped for these situations or has that experience, but the Long Beach Rescue Mission does. For 50 years, ever since our founders were moved by God to create this ministry, this Mission has been here to help people experiencing homelessness in Long Beach. It is our goal to be a beacon of hope and a shining light in the community.
I don’t want to just stress that ‘Hope Can’t Wait.’ I want people to know that ‘Hope is Here.’ Hope is here at the Long Beach Rescue Mission. If you or someone you love has lost their hope, we want to help them right here. And we want to keep growing so we can help more people.
If you feel the sense of urgency that so many of us feel to help people in our city and on our streets, reach out to me directly. I would love to give you a tour, share a meal or a cup of coffee, and tell you more about how we’re seeing God transform lives at the mission.
To learn more or donate to the Long Beach Rescue Mission go to: https://lbrm.org/