Their Need is Great

December, 5, 2012

By Christine Sherk
For The Register Guard
December 5, 2012

Read the original article at RegisterGuard.com

There are many realities of hardship and desolation at Eugene Mission. Homeless people are down on their luck for whatever reason, sometimes within their control, sometimes not. In the case of about 50 percent of the women and children, domestic abuse is the frightening culprit. Whatever their reasons, hundreds of individuals seek food and shelter, and most importantly, a place to feel safe, a haven in which they can get back on their feet, or maybe even stay for a long time.

Casey and her baby daughter Journey, two recent arrivals at the Mission, could not be more grateful for their bed at the Mothers and Children’s Center, where there is room for 34 people a night.

Casey traveled to Eugene with Journey from Everett, Wash., where she could not secure the help she needed because she wasn’t “homeless enough,” as she puts it. “My daughter and I were staying in a friend’s home, and not in a car, or on the street, or in a tent,” she says. Services there were denied, so Casey called Eugene Mission because she has family locally, and a bed was available. She jumped at the chance, arranging for a ride to get here.

“It has meant a lot to me coming to the Eugene Mission because I had nothing else and no other options,” Casey admits. “The Mission has helped me so much.”

A constant reality check

Inside the Mothers and Children’s Center, the dorm room is meant to feel homey, with quilts hung on the walls, and for the children a quilt on each bed and a bed buddy, or stuffed animal, they get to choose and keep for good.

It takes your breath away to look at the room. The beds for families are pushed together. They have nowhere else to go, these folks. This is it, the difference between having nothing and having hope.

The center, under the watchful and caring guidance of both manager Denise Clary and her assistant manager Rebeccah Kithi, provides the families with everything they need, from meals to clothing and shoes, laundry services and showers, too.

“Women are coming and going all the time,” says Dana Eck, the Mission’s senior director of operations, about the Mothers and Children’s Center. “Denise, Rebeccah, me, we’re the stable factor. We just love them, whoever God brings in. They are here to help themselves.”

With its unabashedly Christian purpose of providing food, bed, gospel and restoration, the Mission, which has separate quarters for men and for women, is often misunderstood as an organization that only provides services to Christian believers.

Not so, explains Dana. “We do ask you to attend chapel if you’re going to spend the night. But for any of our day services, or meals, no chapel is required. Even when you’re here, you don’t have to listen. It is what it is,” she says matter-of-factly. “We do this to be compassionate and kind and that comes from our faith,” Dana says. “And we certainly want to be good stewards of what the community, in good faith, has entrusted in us to provide.”

Individuals who decide to improve their lives take part in the Mission’s discipleship programs in which they do chores within their respective centers and have access to social services. They face their challenges and they also have opportunities to grow in their faith.

“That restoration piece is really important to us,” Dana says. “Spiritually, emotionally, physically — in all ways, if they want it. We’re not going to shove it down their throats, but if they want it, we’ll help them.”

Right next door to the Mothers and Children’s Center, the new Women’s Center is nearing completion. Inside, the huge dorm will have room for more than 100 women, with a spacious day room and a separate area for the women’s discipleship program.

The present Women’s Center, on the opposite side of the Mission campus, houses about 50 women, but the need is for so much more.

“Right now women and moms with kids are the fastest growing population for homelessness,” Dana explains.

Four women run the Women’s Center: manager Diane Manchester, social services manager Holleigh Cain, evening manager Nancy Lalande and house assistant Georgia Knox. All will move to the new center when it’s completed early next year.

“It’s going to be wonderful,” Dana says with unbridled enthusiasm. “The need is so great.”

On common ground

Dana stands as just one example of how much the women working at the Mission truly care for and relate to the people seeking their help.

“All of our women here at the Mission, we’re just women. We’ve all had hardships in our lives; we’ve all made mistakes in our lives; it’s not us and them. We can all relate on some level.”

In Dana’s case, her compassion for people indeed comes from a deep and personal space. The 56-year-old grew up in what she describes as a dysfunctional family, and took to her faith at 13 years old. She raised three kids with her husband, but when their middle son, Marshall, began taking drugs, specifically methamphetamine, her world shifted dramatically.

“He was a meth addict for five years,” she says. “The struggle. The co-dependency. The worry I had over my son … it just about killed me. It was hard to know where that line of enabling and helping is. We were right on the edge most of the time. It just got uglier and uglier. I thought he would either overdose, or kill himself, but something had to give.”

Something did. Marshall hit rock bottom and begged for help. He was finally ready, Dana says, and asked.

“Basically the help we gave him was love and a place to stay to get away from all his bad influences. We gave him food and bed, much like we do here for folks. And he got well. So my heart is with every person here,” says Dana, who left a long-standing job with Harvest House Publishers in August to take her post at the Mission. “I have compassion and empathy. It’s just in me. Every piece of how God made me gets used here.”

Denise also adds, “Sometimes in life you wonder why you’ve had to go through something, and, well, there’s a reason, and that’s to help others. There is a grander purpose in the future.”

Giving, and more giving

With the holidays ahead and the colder, wetter weather stretching on through the winter, more people are likely to seek the Mission’s services.

“We are packed right now,” Dana admits. Both the men’s and women’s dorms are filled every night. If they have to, the Mission staff will put mattresses in the chapel when the cold snaps hit to accommodate more people.

“Last year we had 5,500 beds used. This year we had 5,500 beds used by June,” Dana says of the Mothers and Children’s Center alone.

Back in the Mothers and Children’s Center, Dana opens the clothing and school supply closet. Her eyes well up at the sight of rows of brand new shoes and warm winter coats, all with tags left on.

“The generosity of people donating what they do here at the Mission, well, it gets to me, the kindness of our community.”

She lifts a stuffed animal from the bin where a whole collection awaits to make friends with arriving children. Like baby Journey.

As Casey makes up the crib pushed up against her own bed, she gratefully folds the baby’s new quilt in place. Tonight and for however long they need to, the two will sleep well. They will be safe and cared for.

“My baby’s name is Journey. It’s been a great journey getting to this place,” Casey says.

What to donate

Urgent needs this winter at Eugene Mission are underwear and socks for all; bras and feminine hygiene products for women; shoes and jeans; winter coats; coffee and oatmeal; bar soap; deodorant; shampoo; towels and washcloths. Drop off donations at Eugene Mission, 1542 W. First Ave., in Eugene. Volunteer opportunities available as well. Call 541-344-3251 to find out more, or visit eugenemission.org.

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.
Psalm 41:1