By John Grossi | Photos by Monique Kuhlman
Last issue, we introduced the Long Beach Rescue Mission (LBRM), a non-government affiliated, Christian-based homeless shelter in West Long Beach. We told the story of Jeff Levine, their new Executive Director, who is a living and breathing example of how someone living on the streets and addicted to drugs can be saved and turn his entire life around. For this issue, LBRM asked me to join their team for a ride-along in the Search and Rescue van.
APPROACHING HOMELESS ENCAMPMENTS
It’s become a common occurrence… seeing the tents on the side of the freeway or packed side-by-side along the concrete riverbeds of Long Beach. We say things like, “What a shame” or wonder, “When did Long Beach begin to look like this?” We see a cluster of tents in a park near our house… making sure to stay safely on the other side, unsure what to make of the people living in those tents. “They’re probably on drugs… dirty and dangerous,” we think. We may feel bad, but we know our thinking may not be completely out of line. In my normal daily life, I am definitely a part of that “we” mentioned above.
But I had a chance to be part of a different “we” one Friday this past February. I piled into the LBRM’s “Search and Rescue” van with Executive Director Jeff Levine and Head Chaplain Torie Russell. Our driver was John Wimberly, whose job is to lead daily search and rescue for the mission. John graduated in 2015, from LBRM’s New Life Program.
We walk towards the tents along the Los Angeles river bed in Downtown Long Beach, “How y’all doing? We’re here with the Long Beach Rescue Mission and we brought y’all some food!”
The residents begin to peek heads out of tents. We continue, “You mind if we share a little food and say a prayer with you? We’ve got some fresh socks. Have you heard of the Long Beach Rescue Mission?”
The people we encounter aren’t scary or noticeably on drugs. They seem “normal" and appreciative. They’re not about to pass up a sandwich or a prayer. A few exchange some jokes with us. At least half give long-drawn, heartfelt thank yous.
We see a cluster of tents in the brand-new, turf-lined Lincoln Park on Ocean Avenue. Young moms watch their children play on the state-of-the-art playground. We walk past them and head straight for the tents. We feel inadequate with our handful of sandwiches but we know they will appreciate what we have to give and not think about what we don’t.
A friendlier, more appreciative group of people I have not met, than the 20+ people we talked to that Friday while visiting their tents and offering food.
NO ATHEISTS IN FOXHOLES
There was something I couldn’t stop thinking about on that Friday. The old war-phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
I’m thinking of this phrase as I watch three men of faith go from tent to tent, offering prayers to the soldiers of the street facing hunger, danger, and the cold. Though possibly battling their own will to live, I have never seen souls more eager to pray. Probably 15 out of 20 were more interested in the prayer than the food.
I had no idea before this experience how “Christian” the streets are. But they are. Faith in God is the last strand of hope many of these people are holding onto. Besides socks, blankets, and tents, many keep a bible in their short list of possessions.
Therefore, the Long Beach Rescue Mission offers something more powerful than any government agency could ever mirror. The ability to nourish the two biggest cravings these down-on-their luck folks need: food and faith.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
On the day I joined the “Search and Rescue” team, we stopped our mission after two short hours because we ran out of food bags and care packages. “These items are our ticket in,” said John Wimberly, who was driving the van.
John has walked in the shoes of those experiencing homelessness and has been saved. He’s living a life he never dreamt of when he was staying among the tents of LA. He has no shortage of faith and prayers to share. It’s the food he could use help with.
Food donations, any and all types and in any quantity, are ALWAYS accepted at LBRM, which also runs a daily kitchen for anyone on the streets who wants to attend. We rescued two people the day I rode along, a success rate that doesn’t always happen. A young husband and pregnant wife living in a tent in Lincoln Park decided to take us up on the offer, move into the shelter, and join the program. With this addition, the last available bed was filled in the women’s shelter.
Monetary donations will be put toward the expansion of the Long Beach Rescue Mission’s shelters providing more beds to those ready and willing to get off the streets.
NOT TRYING TO FIX THE PROBLEM
When considering giving a donation to the Long Beach Rescue Mission, remember this key difference in their approach: They are not trying to “fix the problem of homelessness.” They are trying to “help individual people.”
It’s an important difference and a real distinction. The men and women who work for the mission are mostly comprised of its graduates and current residents. These are individuals who have been homeless and now are helping others fix their lives.
This is not a sweeping program designed to cure the entire city, but each week it helps those individuals who are ready to be helped. It’s working too. Most of the people knew about and had nothing but positive things to say about the Long Beach Rescue Mission. With each visit, the LBRM gains more and more street cred.
Maybe one day, they will decide to take John up on his offer of free lodging, warm showers, and hot food for a year. If they don’t, that’s okay too. John doesn’t drive the van to force people off the streets. He drives the van to give people hope, prayer, and maybe a sandwich if he has one.
If you’d like to support them in their mission, please consider giving a donation through their website, www.lbrm.org.
Want to learn more? Jeff Levine invites you to a personal tour or ride along with him. You can email Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 562-277-4697 to schedule a visit and experience for yourself.