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Community News: Central

DOWNTOWN : Thanksgiving Meal to Show Off Shelter

November 27, 1994

They set a bigger table for Thanksgiving dinner this year at the Union Rescue Mission.

Although they will not officially begin serving the homeless in their new home at 545 S. San Pedro St. until Dec. 12, mission staff members threw open the doors of their state-of-the-art facility and invited 4,000 of the less fortunate for Thanksgiving dinner.

Their shopping list looked something like this: 140 turkeys, 750 pounds of sweet potatoes, 600 pounds of green beans, 150 pounds of cranberry sauce, 100 gallons of gravy, 700 pounds of stuffing, 4,000 rolls and, for dessert, 460 pumpkin pies.

Mission staffers anticipated serving about 1,000 more people this year than they did last year in their present dining room, which is tiny compared to their new one that can seat 600 people at a time.

And despite some concerns about their new neighborhood, it is this increased capacity to serve the needy that has convinced mission staffers that the move from their 68-year-old home near of Main and 2nd streets is a good one.

"We will have more beds so that people won't be forced to sleep on hard plastic chairs. Everything we need is in that building," said Michael Teague, mission's chief operating officer.

The mission has beds for about 400 men. An additional 200 or so men find refuge in the shelter's chapel each night. They sleep on chairs.

With 235,000 square feet, the new mission will be one of the largest shelters in the nation. It can hold up to 810 dormitory beds for transients and longer-term residents enrolled in a substance abuse recovery program.

The new space also allows the mission to offer services for women, beyond short-term emergency care, for the first time. One hundred beds have been reserved for them and room has been allocated for 12 cribs.

Deborah Munoz, manager of women's services, said it was critical to do something to meet their needs because the female population on Skid Row is growing.

Munoz was helping Patricia Thornton, 36, find a gift for her son, who just had his first birthday.

Thornton, who lives on Skid Row, is struggling to stabilize her life and kick her alcohol dependency so that she can win her two children back from foster care.

"I'm glad the mission is moving. Women need a place to stay down here. A place where a woman can feel like a woman," Thornton said.

The new five-floor building also has a health care facility, a 400-seat chapel, classrooms and a basketball court. Its price tag was $29 million, funded with a $6.5-million community redevelopment grant and private donations.

The new mission, however, is in the heart of Skid Row, where drug trafficking and crime are rampant. The mission has doubled its security by hiring 20 more guards.

Although a more hardened clientele may join the mission's regular patrons, staffers are confident that they will be able to maintain a safe environment.

When the move was announced, some of their new neighbors complained about the growing concentration of shelters in their area and worried that sidewalk encampments and crime would increase.

"I think we are helping to make that community safer," Teague said.

Mission security guards will patrol around the shelter's entrances on San Julian and San Pedro streets. Because of the many resources inside the mission--including a courtyard where those who do not have beds may sleep safely--Teague said he does not think more homeless people will be camping out in the area.

Teague added that the number of homeless service centers in the neighborhood is an asset because they can coordinate resources.

The mission used to serve three hot meals a day, but at the new location it will serve only two, along with a light snack in the evening. Teague said meals are available in so many of the other shelters in the neighborhood that the mission can cut back.

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