Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Night at the Rescue Mission

Thursday night I stayed at the Eugene Rescue Mission. Someday, someone will approach the congregation looking for help for whom the Rescue Mission will be an appropriate resource.

The other ministers I network with tend to think the Rescue Mission is the best thing since sliced bread. People I know who consider staying there all claim it is dreadful. Obviously, the truth is somewhere in between, and now I know the details first-hand.

What does it offer? A clean and safe place to sleep. Good food, and as much as you can eat. A staff that is friendly towards first-time guests.

The building is meticulously clean, but ugly. That makes sense. Sickness is bad, but this building is not supposed to be a cozy place people want to stay at forever. For the same reason, the furniture is comfortable but really ugly.

The food for dinner was heavily bread-based: pasta with chicken, steamed vegetables, bread, soda, pie. Someone who is gluten-intolerant would be in trouble. I wonder if the Rescue Mission can prepare alternative meals for people who need them if they receive sufficient notice?

I had left my wallet and cell phone at home, but this was needless. One guest even had a laptop with him. The place is safe if you are careful to never leave items unattended.

At dinner I poured soda for the people next to me, and got surprised looks of thanks. All the guests were friendly but defensive. I had to start every conversation. Extending my hand when I introduced myself was an oddity: I was willing to risk their germs? People took care of themselves; there were few opportunities for a "please" or "thank you". If politeness is the oil that makes the gears of society run smoothly, these gears had long ago worn down to toothlessness and thus vaguely remembered oil but no longer needed it.

Advice to potential guests: bring tea and ramen and a cup and spoon since there is an instant hot-water spout in the main room; bring a flat pillow if you prefer it since the pillows are big and firm; walk or bike there since the bike racks are fenced and locked but the parking lot is not; bring flip-flops to wear when showering.

What can local ministers do to help? Donate some towels; towards the end of the showering they had run out of adult towels and only had child-sized towels. Call local dentists to get donations of toothbrushes and toothpaste for first-time guests.

And I had only one thought of advice for the Rescue Mission: assign bunks so people share only when necessary -- why risk a potential argument among guests ("You're noisy! Stop wiggling!") for no reason?

As Charity Navigator points out in the above link, the Rescue Mission spends more on fundraising than helping people. But as a guest I was not sure what else the Rescue Mission should have spent money on to care for me. I got clean sheets, clean pajamas, abundant food, a shower, and comfortable shelter. Given the economic realities of Lane County, I'm willing to believe until I see evidence otherwise that the Rescue Mission must spend so much on fundraising to meet its expenses.

Finally, a note about the bunk's mattress. It was plastic and imminently washable. Clearly that is the proper priority, but this mattress was soft yet offered no support. Lying on my back I felt like I was in a hammock, and so I fell asleep to the snores around me with the tune from the Pirates of the Carribean ride running through my head, imagining I was on a pirate ship. If there are better washable mattresses being made, the Resuce Mission could use those! But I'm guessing it's not a market to which modern mattress technology has any interest in offering perfection.