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THE LONG BEACH RESCUE MISSION HELPING DISABLED VETERANS OFF THE STREETS

By John Grossi

Photos by Monique Kuhlman


“God brought me a long way. From a plantation to a penitentiary, to skid row, to here,” said Robert Barnes, with a weathered but grateful look on his face. “It’s gonna be a challenge for me, but I’m up for it.”


Robert Barnes is one of many veterans who has showed up at the Long Beach Rescue Mission this year thanks to the newly built John and Helen Apostle House that provides 15 beds to disabled, homeless men.


Executive Director Jeff Levine is excited about the immediate success of the house, but surprised at the number of veterans who are for the first time showing up in high numbers at the Long Beach Rescue Mission. “There are so many resources available for veterans, that’s one reason we haven’t historically seen many come through our shelter,” explains Jeff. “Now we’re realizing how many still need help connecting to those resources.”


As with every person who ends up at the Long Beach Rescue Mission, these veterans’ stories are unique.


ROBERT

Robert grew up on a plantation in South Carolina and enlisted in the military when he was young. While in the military, he was introduced to drugs. “They just became a part of my life. Whatever we could find, I consumed,” he said. During his time in the military, he developed both a deep addiction to drugs and a steadfast distrust of the US Army, the US government, and subsequently, the Veterans Association.


“I’ve seen what they tell young kids going into the military, and then I see them [the young vets] come back with no arms and no legs and nowhere to go. I never did trust them [government organizations] much after that.”


Robert’s storied and troubled life after the military culminated in 10 years living on Skid Row in LA where he “gave up all hope.” After months of bouncing between hospitals and attempted suicides, he got word that his mother back in South Carolina had passed away. Sobered by her death yet buoyed in spirits by the promise he made to her to change his life, he ended up at the Long Beach Rescue Mission.




MARSHALL

Marshall recently got out of prison after serving 20 years. Before that, while in the military, his leg was injured so badly it almost got amputated. Instead, he has a titanium rod in his leg which makes it hard for him to walk.


“I’ve got relatives here in Belmont Shore, but they have families, so I can’t stay with them. My cousin sent me down here to the Long Beach Rescue Mission. I wouldn’t have been able to make it out there on the street. I needed reformation. I don’t use alcohol or drugs or nothing like that, but I needed help with my health. And I used to not run with the Lord. I have a new perspective in life now. It’s a change in me.”


Since staying at the Apostle House, the Long Beach Rescue Mission has helped orchestrate doctor appointments so that Marshall can not only get help with his leg, but also access his social security. The LBRM is also helping him get into a more permanent home in Veteran Housing.


When asked if he knew about all the benefits available for veterans, he said he knew about them but couldn’t access them while living on the streets after being in prison for 20 years. Marshall needed the Long Beach Rescue Mission’s help to access the housing available for him.


ADOLPHUS



Adolphus, who served in the US Navy, had been a truck driver since he got out of the military. He suffers from a number of injuries and health battles in his knees and elbows. Earlier this year, after an incident where he lost control of his truck and subsequently damaged the load he was carrying, he was terminated from his job.


Unable to pay his rent, he was then evicted from his apartment. Adolphus was forced to move into his car and sleep in a motel room. Luckily from his motel room, he found the Long Beach Rescue Mission and gave them a call.


Once housed in the Apostle House, Adolphus began looking for a job again. His turning point, however, came when (as he puts it) he finally began to listen to Dana.


Dana is a case manager and the house manager at the Apostle House. More importantly, she is a walking, talking, bright-shining blessing to the disabled men with whom she works every day. She’s in charge of helping with their finances, connecting them to the available resources they may not know about, and ultimately helping them to find permanent housing.


She encouraged Adolphus to first focus on a permanent solution to housing (which she helped him apply for through the VA) and his health. He currently cannot step up into the trucks he used to drive due to their large steps.


While his journey to employment will continue, Adolphus has a surgery scheduled to help drain fluid from his knee and he will be staying in the Apostle House under their care until his knee is functioning well enough to drive. He has been approved for VA Housing and will move into his own place this summer.



IN THE WORDS OF DANA

You’ve never seen anyone as busy and jovial during the workday as Dana Gwin. She walks around the Long Beach Rescue Mission, making each resident’s day. Not just because her kind spirit is infectious… but also because she’s actively making calls and helping with paperwork. She is connecting this grateful population of men in need with the resources that Dana knows are available to them. It’s amazing to watch her in action.


When asked if she’s surprised at how many veterans have begun to show up to the newly open Apostle House, her answer is simple, “We didn’t know they were out there because we didn’t have a place for them to stay. Now we do, and they’re showing up.”


IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME

The 15-bed shelter, built specifically to house disabled homeless men, is the only one of its kind in Long Beach. It serves a vital need. An estimated 37% of men living on the streets are disabled, meaning they can’t access many of the shelters which often exist in buildings that pre-date ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements.


For those entering the one-year program at the Long Beach Rescue Mission, the John and Helen Apostle House is not only serving many disabled (non-veteran) homeless men, it’s also helping veterans find a safe place to get connected with the resources and housing that can keep them off the streets long term.


The Long Beach Rescue Mission didn’t expect to see veterans, but they are certainly glad to help. In the words of Dana Gwin, “If this house wasn’t here… those 15 men would still be out on the streets.”


It really is that simple.  

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