There's No Rescue Without You!

Staff Spotlight: Larry Perry

Larry Perry, Lead Janitor at San Diego Rescue Mission

“There are so many miracles that come through the Mission, and I am one of them. I’m a living miracle, all thanks to God and the San Diego Rescue Mission,” says Larry.

Meet Larry Perry, Lead Janitor at San Diego Rescue Mission, and a very special member of our team. His story is an inspiration and his positivity and joy for life is infectious!

Larry first came to the Mission in September of 2009 after living on the streets where he faced a number of life changing struggles, including, sadly, his wife being murdered. He was at a point in life where his family wanted nothing to do with him because of the poor choices he had made, and he decided he couldn’t continue down that path any longer. He was determined to make a change. That’s when he joined San Diego Rescue Mission’s 12 Month Residential Recovery Program, where he received the tools and support needed to strengthen his relationship with God and transform his life. After a year of hard work and determination, he graduated and was offered an internship here at San Diego Rescue Mission. In 2011 he completed the internship, and his journey with the Mission continued as he was hired on as staff. Larry has been here ever since.

As the Lead Janitor, Larry supervises house keeping and is responsible for overseeing nine clients. He works hard each day training his team of clients with cleaning techniques so they’ll have skills necessary to contribute to the community on their own after they leave the Mission. “I’ve come a long way,” Larry says, “I was just a lonely housekeeper before, and God decided he wanted me to do more!” One of Larry’s favorite parts about working at the Mission is the opportunity to talk with others and share his story to instill hope. “I can relate to most of these people that come through the Mission from the streets. I know what life is like on the streets; I went through it all. But, I made it and look at me now! I’m clean, living on my own and paying my own bills. I give God all the credit and glory and all I can do is thank him.” Larry enjoys sharing his story with those struggling because its proof to others that they can get through anything, and the Rescue Mission is their opportunity to take the leap of faith and to trust God.

One of Larry’s main janitorial responsibilities has always been the Recuperative Care Unit, which has become a sentimental aspect of his job. There he enjoys playing his morning gospel music for clients while getting to know them and their stories, encourages them to keep fighting, and witnesses them overcome their battles. He’s influenced a handful of residents who have joined the Men’s Center upon their release from the RCU. Recently, Larry was even acknowledged in a graduation speech where the graduate whole-heartedly thanked him and gave him credit to his success.

The piece of advice Larry always carries with himself is to always trust and keep faith in God; He will not let you down. “God is able, no matter what we do in life. If we turn our life over to God, He’s able to change it around. The hope is there, just waiting for someone to grab it,” Larry explains. Utilizing his own inspirational story as proof, he encourages others to trust God and follow Him back on the right path. “I tell them ‘look at me – it’s real.’ There are so many miracles that come through the Mission, and I am one of them. I’m a living miracle, all thanks to God and the San Diego Rescue Mission.”

Larry is now 7 years clean and sober living on his own, making his own decisions, and has completely transformed his life for the better. “My life has turned around and I have my family, kids, and grand-kids back in my life! I’m finally wanted by them and it’s the best feeling in the world!” Larry is truly a success story and an inspiration to anyone out there going through hard times. His story is a reminder that there is always a silver lining through the hardships.

Staff Spotlight: Micaela Cappa

Micaela Cappa

“I like to think of myself as a wounded healer. We all have our own set of issues, and I use my imperfections and experiences to help heal others,” says Micaela.

Meet Micaela, Marriage and Family Therapist in the Outpatient Therapy Clinic at San Diego Rescue Mission.

Those experiencing life on the streets face more than just physical challenges. Many also live with one or more mental health or substance abuse issues, adding to their difficulty in finding housing and employment. That’s where our Marriage and Family Therapists in our Outpatient Therapy Clinic, like Micaela, come in and provide treatment and support to those in need.

Micaela is a native San Diegan with extensive experience supporting the less fortunate and those experiencing homelessness. In the past, she spent time working with refugees and immigrants in San Diego. She was part of the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and taught Spanish in Montana. She eventually earned a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, which is what brought her to San Diego Rescue Mission.

While studying for her degree, one of her class assignments was to stay overnight in the Nueva Vida Haven Shelter. It was that eye-opening experience that made her realize she wanted a career supporting and working with the homeless population. “I had always been interested in the poor and broken hearted people going through major life struggles, and I knew I wanted to help,” she said. Micaela wanted to help turn lives around.

The therapists in our Outpatient Therapy Clinic provide free, quality counseling to individuals, families, children and couples who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or unable to afford therapy. Micaela leads a process group in the Recuperative Care Unit (RCU) where she provides psychotherapy to adults in need. She assists with the development of treatment plans for clients experiencing trauma, mental disorders, addiction, substance abuse, domestic violence, and more. “It’s a neat experience because I get to see pretty much everything – there are no two alike clients. They all come in with so much trauma, and I love helping them identify their goals and manage their unwanted symptoms,” she says. Together with the psychiatrists, they work as a team to develop the most beneficial treatment plans possible with the goal of having clients eventually able to manage their symptoms on their own, essentially becoming their own therapist.

What Micaela loves most about her job is that she sees so many types of people; all with unique backgrounds and issues, but with common spiritual background and faith in God. “Being able to talk spiritually with them and share a love for God is so neat. I love that the Mission is faith based and I am able to pray with staff and clients and share that bond.”  One recent client in particular had a significant impact on Micaela. After seeing the client for two years and observing her from her lowest point, so hopeless and depressed, Micaela witnessed her client progress through the trauma and develop into an independent woman with so much hard work and determination. “She is a completely different person from when I first started seeing her – she has come so far and I could not be more proud. She’s impressively committed, coming in each day and working through her problems. She’s grown to love challenges and developed the will to push herself to face her fears. She’s gotten to the point where she is able to do the majority of the work herself, and it’s very rewarding that she’s taking the process so seriously. I feel very special to be a part of her journey.”

Micaela believes that nobody is perfect, but with the right mindset and determination anyone can overcome anything, and she and the other therapists are there to help. “I’m not perfect either! I like to think of myself as a wounded healer. We all have our own set of issues, and I use my imperfections and experiences to help heal others.”

Staff Spotlight: Angela Ford

Angela Ford, Aftercare Coordinator here at San Diego Rescue Mission

“I love working with our clients and instilling hope. Being able to serve God’s people is something that I’ve been destined to do,” says Angela.

Meet Angela Ford, Aftercare Coordinator here at San Diego Rescue Mission.

The Alumni Aftercare program was created for clients who are re-integrating with society after successfully completing and graduating from our 12 month Residential Recovery Program. The purpose and goal of the program is to provide resources, encouragement, and support while promoting self-sufficiency. That’s where Angela comes in!

Angela is our newest Aftercare Coordinator. She was previously employed at Jane Westin Center where she worked closely with the mental health community, and several clients who were formerly and currently clients at San Diego Rescue Mission.

On a daily basis, Angela provides supportive services to graduates of the Residential programs as well as to those who are nearing graduation. Some of these services and tasks include checking in with clients on job readiness and aiding with resumes, applications, job searching, mock interviewing, and providing overall emotional support as clients work to transition back into society. “I always do my best to help our clients with an open heart and integrity,” says Angela.

The hope of the Aftercare program is that through Christ, and the tools each client has been given in our programs, they will have a full understanding of how to maintain sustainability while living independently, and overcoming any of life’s challenges that may arise.

Angela shared a story about a client she met in late January who right off the bat declared he didn’t like people and didn’t trust anyone.  She explained that was an issue he would have to overcome and suggested that he find someone to be accountable to. He continued to insist that he didn’t trust anyone.

“Finally, I got him to commit to having an accountability partner. He called me about three weeks later and asked if I would be that accountability partner,” explained Angela. “He said he felt comfortable around me and thought I would keep him on his toes!”

A few months later, the client received some difficult news concerning his health and went to visit Angela to talk it over.

“I encouraged him and spoke life to him and shared testimonies of what I have seen God do with my own eyes. He then told me that when he received the news, the first thing he thought of was to call me, not even to drink, which is what he would have normally done. This was huge for me. It blessed me tremendously and after he left, I cried. God is good and I just kept thinking about his goodness,” she recalled.

Those enriching experiences with clients are what motivates and inspires Angela to work for San Diego Rescue Mission. “I love working with our clients and instilling hope. Being able to serve God’s people is something that I’ve been destined to do.”

Staff Spotlight: Dawn LeVine

Dawn LeVine, Director of our Outpatient Therapy Clinic

“When you sit with someone and listen to their story, they become human again and something amazing is restored. I love that I get to be a part of God’s healing and restoration,” says Dawn.

Meet Dawn LeVine, Director of our Outpatient Therapy Clinic.

Those living on the streets face more than physical challenges. That’s where our Outpatient Therapy Clinic comes in.

San Diego Rescue Mission’s Outpatient Therapy Clinic is a critical psychotherapy center providing free, quality counseling to individuals, families, children, and couples who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of becoming homeless or unable to afford therapy.

Dawn LeVine is one of the Rescue Mission’s remarkable licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, and the Director of the Outpatient Therapy Clinic. Dawn first came to the Mission in January of 2008 as a graduate student completing her practicum for a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. After graduation she worked as a case manager and Child Development Director for the Women and Children’s Center.

Dawn was first introduced to the homeless community while working at a large North County Church. “I organized and led groups to serve meals to the homeless and fell in love with the men, women, and children we served. I left my job at the church and went to work for the homeless ministry,” she explained. After receiving her license in Marriage Family Therapy, she launched a private practice for a few years. In May of 2015, she was offered a new position back at San Diego Rescue Mission. “When the opportunity to return to the Mission presented itself, I instantly jumped at the chance to return to serve with the homeless in San Diego.”

Each day, Dawn provides clinical supervision to a team of graduate students who are Marriage and Family Therapy interns. They provide individual, family, and group therapy to Rescue Mission clients and graduates, as well as anyone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. She also leads psychoeducational groups in the Men’s and Women’s Center programs. “On a typical day I meet, individually and in groups, with the 17 therapists currently working at the Mission to discuss how best to meet the needs of the people here, see my own therapy clients, and review case notes and treatment plans,” she explains.

The therapy services at our Outpatient Clinic are designed to meet the needs of the whole individual, giving him or her the best chance at living as a healthy, contributing member of our community. Dawn describes the Boundaries groups as one of her favorite services in the clinic. “I love our Boundaries groups. We start with a group of men who are very suspicious about this ‘therapy stuff’ and not shy in telling us! After a few weeks, we see a shift take place and the men begin to risk sharing more openly, applying the material to their own lives, and supporting one another. By the end of the 12-session class, many have asked for individual therapy.”

“As therapists, we have the incredible privilege of sitting with people here at San Diego Rescue Mission who have been through incredible trauma.” The patients of our Outpatient Therapy Clinic experience a variety of trauma throughout their life including mental health or substance abuse issues, but seeing the treatment transform the lives of these men and women is what Dawn loves about her career. “When you sit with someone and listen to their story, they become human again and something amazing is restored. I love that I get to be a part of God’s healing and restoration of people back to Himself.”

Staff Spotlight: Tonya Davis

Tonya Davis of 2nd Avenue Transitional Housing

“I have always given back my time and money to the domestic violence prevention community after my own personal experience,” says Tonya (left) pictured with her mentor Chef Leah Chase of Dooky Chase Southern Cuisine of New Orleans, LA and inspiration for Disney’s movie The Princess and the Frog.

Meet Tonya Davis, Residential Advisor of San Diego Rescue Mission’s Transitional Housing Program.

The 2nd Avenue/Transitional Housing Program is a multi-phase transitional housing program designed for single adults and families working toward self-sufficiency. The program’s mission is to address the various needs of the program members within a trauma informed care framework that focuses on healing previous barriers to independence. Tonya and her team are able to accommodate a diverse group of individuals by offering two tracks; one focused on finding and maintaining employment, and the other finding alternate routes for client’s with disabilities to be active and resourceful within the San Diego community.

Tonya joined the San Diego Rescue Mission team 5 years ago. During 3 of those years, she worked as an On-Call Residential Advisor for the Women & Children Center (WCC) and Recuperative Care Unit (RCU) programs. “I was then offered a full-time position with the new transitional housing program that opened in spring of 2014, and I welcomed the opportunity and change,” recalls Tonya.

“When able to, I have always given back my time and money to the domestic violence prevention community after my own personal experience with my children while living in Chicago.”

As a Residential Advisor for 2nd Avenue/Transitional Housing, Tonya provides direction, assistance, and support of day-to-day activities to both the men and women of the program that reside at the Mission. She assists them with the development of critical life skills that include social and independent living, employment, and self-awareness of physical and mental health. “I’m tough, but with a lot of LOVE. I expect more from them than they do of themselves,” says Tonya. “They have no idea that they are actually helping me more than I am helping them.”

Often times, the clients in the transitional housing program are there without wanting to be, and are initially resistant to the help being offered to them. “But day-by-day, with God’s work, they begin to transform from being hopeless, in tears full of fear and anger, to becoming hopeful with smiles of trust and joy,” she says.

“Felecia is an example of one of those clients. I met her when she came to the WCC. She was a loud, angry woman, who did not like to be told what to do. Despite everything she was going through, Felecia began to trust me and we talked about situations she found herself in and thought she would never overcome. But with patience and some tough love she opened her heart enough to evolve into a joyful, determined to make it, responsible woman. Felecia returned to the Mission for our transitional housing program after leaving the WCC for a short period of time, and with the support she received, she was able to obtain full time employment, move into a lovely apartment of her own, and now she works for the Mission as a Residential Advisor. It’s the best feeling ever to see them move out and into ‘real life’ and do well,” says Tonya.

Tonya also has had the opportunity to share her love for food, cooking, and hospitality with the clients of 2nd Avenue/Transitional Housing. Using the available resources and support of staff, Tonya helped start a cooking class that has raised the awareness of a healthy lifestyle for the clients who participate, most of which have not cooked a meal in a very long time, due to homelessness.

“I am very proud of the work I do at the San Diego Rescue Mission and look forward to the path that the Lord leads me in His service to others.”

Staff Spotlight: Angel Valero

Staff Spotlight: Angel Valero

“My faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and knowledge of addiction and mental illness made this job a perfect match for me,” says Angel.

Meet Angel Valero, the Education Manager for the 12-Month Residential Recovery Program at the Men’s Center.

San Diego Rescue Mission’s state-licensed 12-Month Residential Recovery Program is designed to meet the critical, diverse needs of homeless, poor and/or addicted men by providing the tools, training and support to permanently transform their lives. Angel is the Education Director of the Program and oversees the core classes including Relapse Prevention, Anger Management, Real Life Skills, Boundaries, Conflict Resolution, Computer Literacy, Bible Study, and Adult Basic Education.

Angel joined the San Diego Rescue Mission team 13 years ago when he first moved to San Diego. Because of a serious knee injury, he was unable to work and found himself facing homelessness. After limping around on crutches and sleeping on sidewalks for three days, someone recommended the San Diego Rescue Mission. He enrolled, and went on to successfully complete the 12-Month Recovery Program. After he graduated, one of the pastors informed him of an open position with the Mission. “I studied religion on my own and built a deep relationship with God which eventually led me to become a pastor. My faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and knowledge of addiction and mental illness made this job a perfect match for me,” says Angel.

In addition to providing basic services such as housing and food, the program also integrates practical life skills such as vocational training and educational classes. Work therapy and individual therapy assist in the recovery of each client and Bible study adds to the men’s total transformation.

Angel spends his days at the Mission updating curricula as well as scheduling and coordinating with volunteers and fellow staff. He also works as a case manager meeting with clients for in depth recovery work. This includes helping to make referrals, following up on a client’s personal goals, and making arrangements that correspond with specific case plans.

The Men’s Center incorporates a holistic approach to recovery, addressing the needs of the mind, body, and soul. This helps the residents confront and overcome the problems that led to homelessness in the first place. “I always encourage prayer in my office. I pray with them when appropriate and give them goals to strive for before our next meeting.”

“It still amazes me to see God’s work in men’s lives right before my eyes. Over the years I have had the privilege of watching men open up to God and become transformed, healed, and strengthened spiritually,” says Angel. The goal of this program is that upon graduation, all the men live independently as part of society, but also depend on their relationships with Jesus Christ. “Graduated clients always thank me and give me credit for their transformation, but I know it’s because of their relationship with God that they were able to turn their lives around and be successful.”

“I can’t see myself doing any other type of work for the rest of my life. It isn’t easy, and it poses many challenges, but it is the most rewarding job possible. I thank God everyday for all the work He has done, and is doing, in my life because of my job here with San Diego Rescue Mission.”

Staff Spotlight: Graden Tonna

Graden Tonna

“I appreciate San Diego Rescue Mission’s value for holistic care, and was excited to have the opportunity to learn how to provide this care to the homeless, who are often misunderstood and excluded, “ says Graden Tonna.

Meet Graden Tonna, Director of San Diego Rescue Mission’s Recuperative Care Unit (RCU).

The RCU addresses the critical needs of homeless men and women newly released from the hospital yet still requiring medical attention. In fact, our RCU is one of the few places in the county where these individuals can receive proper aftercare until they recover their strength. The program offers up to 27 patients a safe and supportive environment, as well as meals, oversight of medical treatment, and follow-up care.

“I appreciate San Diego Rescue Mission’s value for holistic care, and was excited to have the opportunity to learn how to provide this care to our homeless neighbors, who are often misunderstood and excluded,” said Graden when he accepted his first position here in June 2013 as a Marriage and Family Therapy Trainee. Following the completion of graduate school and his internship, he was hired as the Associate Director of the RCU. Today, as the Director, he works to refine and improve RCU operations, ensure clients’ needs are met and relationships with San Diego area hospitals are maintained.

“I also personally meet with the clients to ensure their physical needs, as well as their psychological, emotional, spiritual, and relational needs are being met. Like all of the RCU staff, I often find myself in a unique position to offer encouragement, direction, or support to our clients who rarely receive such attention. It is humbling and special to be able to provide this gift,” says Graden.

Being hospitalized, or caring for a very sick loved one can be a traumatic, challenging experience for any of us. And for those living on the streets, it can be even more difficult. Inadequate meals, lack of sanitary facilities, and an inability to maintain a schedule can turn a manageable condition into one that is life-threatening.

“Recently we admitted a client named ‘David’ who was struggling with severe depression, which seemed to be exacerbated by the abrupt onset of various debilitating medical conditions,” explains Graden. “Upon intake, David struggled with hopelessness and was without any family or social support. Through the work and collaboration of the RCU team and hospital social workers, he was able to gain access to retirement and disability funds, schedule much needed appointments to address physical needs, and identify stable supportive housing where ongoing physical and psychiatric care will be provided. At the point of discharge, David displayed significantly increased motivation and was grateful for the RCU’s support and encouragement. It was awesome to see how, even in the midst of doubt, the Lord used our efforts to bring hope.”

Our Recuperative Care Unit provides more than respite, it allows individuals to find the strength and support they need for true recovery. As patients have the opportunity to fully recover, they are more likely to follow aftercare instructions, and therefore less likely to need repeat hospital visits.This type of program does more than save lives. It also saves tax-payer dollars, and keeps the costs of healthcare down for everyone.

“I truly enjoy meeting with clients who are in desperate need of holistic care, and, through the power of Christ, being able to help meet these needs. I also appreciate the daily reminder that our clients are created in God’s image, which has promoted a sense of unity, responsibility, empathy, and care in my life. It has become clear to me that Christ is glorified in the complexity of this work.”

Staff Spotlight: Crystal Robinson

Crystal Robinson

“I work at San Diego Rescue Mission because I was created to do this. There is no greater joy than to serve those who feel they don’t deserve God’s attention and love because they have ‘messed up so bad,’” says Crystal Robinson.

Meet Crystal Robinson, Director of our Women + Children’s Center.

Thanks to the dedication of Crystal and her staff, this 12-month, comprehensive program for women and children is helping more San Diego families get back on their feet, kids back in school, and hope back in their lives.

It takes a soul with tremendous patience, heart and devotion to help transform our residents into contributing members of our community. As Director, Crystal works to ensure that the programs at the Women and Children’s Center provide the healing, education and support homeless women need while enabling them to overcome addictions and unhealthy relationships.

But Crystal insists that these homeless women are helping her to find purpose in her own life, just as much as she is helping them discover theirs. Seeing the broken, lost and lonely try to rebuild their lives gives Crystal a stronger need and appreciation for God in her own life.

“I would not know my need for God if it wasn’t for what I encounter here at San Diego Rescue Mission,” she says. “I wouldn’t know I needed more patience, if I wasn’t tested here. I wouldn’t know I needed more compassion if I didn’t experience how hard I can be against clients when they don’t follow rules and order. I wouldn’t know I needed to be more loving if I didn’t have to act in love when I am cursed at or under-appreciated.”

Crystal feels tested by the Lord every day at the Mission, and because of this, she has built a stronger relationship with God.

“I work at the Mission because I have no purpose without this work. God doesn’t just make people like me (educated, structured, organized, skillful) to clean up the mess clients have made for themselves; God makes people like the clients to help people like me, who don’t fully know or understand their need for the Lord.”

“I need the mission…I need the clients,” Crystal says. “I work at the mission because I was created to do this. There is no greater joy than to serve those who feel they don’t deserve God’s attention and love because they have ‘messed up so bad.’”

Staff Spotlight: Karen Keith

Karen Keith

“I believe very strongly and passionately that we deal with the most broken of the population. We are here to show them acceptance, caring, empathy and provide safety to reduce some of the trauma of the situation,” says Karen Keith.

Meet Karen Keith, Director of the Nueva Vida Haven Emergency Overnight Shelter for Women and Children.

Each day, she fields phone calls regarding people seeking safe shelter. Some are being discharged from hospitals, some recently released from prison and some are mothers with children found sleeping on the streets of San Diego.

She tells the caller about the rules and check-in times. Then, each evening at 5:30pm, the doors to the Emergency Overnight Shelter open. Every night the shelter is full, with women and children looking for a warm meal and safe place to sleep.

“My staff and I see and embrace the frightened children who have never been homeless before, women who have been battered, elderly women and the mentally ill.  I believe very strongly and passionately that we deal with the most broken of the population. We are here to show them acceptance, caring, empathy and provide safety to reduce some of the trauma of the situation.”

In addition to a safe night, Karen’s team works with each woman to learn about their specific situation, helping them to determine the best course of action for life improvement. Often this includes providing resources for housing, getting IDs, clothing, necessary medication or mental health assistance and other necessities. Sometimes this includes entry into the long-term recovery program– and that’s when she sees lives really change.

Before coming to San Diego Rescue Mission 3 years ago, Karen spent 25 years in a school district working with special needs children.

“During this time I realized the impact children with disabilities have on the family unit and their struggles they endure with society.  This propelled me to go back to school and get my Masters in Marriage and Family therapy.”

Until her work with San Diego Rescue Mission, Karen had no experience with the homeless population. She never thought about their stories or their lives. Now, each day, she meets new people – children, seniors, mothers – all with a story to share and struggle they are fighting to overcome. Each time she answers her phone, she realizes it could be another opportunity to save a life.

One impacting phone call came from a mother with an autistic child. She was leaving an abusive relationship and had no place to go. Karen shared information about the Nueva Vida Haven program. After a few nights in the shelter, the mother applied for the 12-Month Residential Recovery Program.  Today, she is getting her life back. She has a safe place to stay while her child has structure and sense of security in his life.

“One day, she stopped me in the hallway to thank me,” remembers Karen.  “She said it was the phone call she made to the Rescue Mission that got her to where she is now- a stable place to live, security and therapy for her and her son to deal with the abusive relationship she had endured. “

Karen recalls another life changing story when a 62 year old woman was released from prison into the overnight shelter.

“With case management, she was able to get her IDs, social security and apply to local places to stay.  After several weeks she returned to thank us, and admitted that without the help of the Mission, there would have been a high probability of her returning to the streets and ending back in jail.”

Because San Diego Rescue Mission is a faith-based nonprofit, Karen enjoys being able to pray with the clients of faith and demonstrate Christ’s love.  She also enjoys seeing the impact of San Diego Rescue Mission’s nine programs and how they work together as one to change lives.  The critical starting point for many is the Nueva Vida Haven shelter. From there, the women either enter the 12-month Residential Recovery Program or the Transitional Housing Program.

“We have such a strong team of staff with a common goal: to give the lost, broken and hurting a place to come and feel respected, loved and cared for. “

Staff Spotlight: Chris Cessna

Chris Cessna

“I love being able to witness former RCU clients move on to one of the long-term treatment programs and graduate with a new life,” says Chris Cessna.

Meet Chris Cessna, Director of the Recuperative Care Unit here at San Diego Rescue Mission.

Chris is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who started his MFT Practicum in 2008 as a therapist in our Outpatient Clinic.

Today, he oversees the overall function of the Recuperative Care Unit (RCU), a short-term program for homeless men and women recovering from various medical conditions. Chris is directly involved with the treatment planning for residents as well as maintaining relationships with social workers and administrators at partner hospitals.  In addition to overseeing the whole program, Chris also makes time to personally meet with RCU clients face-to-face.

“Our residents are very medically fragile and are the most vulnerable of the homeless population,” explained Chris. “The majority of our referrals come directly from hospitals and in many cases have no other available options besides the streets.”

The staff at the Recuperative Care Unit plays a significant role in assisting clients in getting basic needs met along with access to medical care, insurance and disability benefits.

“Once they have been able to achieve some level of medical stability and/or have been connected to appropriate treatment providers, we work with them towards an appropriate discharge plan, which can include referrals to treatment programs, permanent supportive housing, or other housing options. These interventions can be life-saving for our clients,” says Chris.

Unlike other programs at San Diego Rescue Mission, the homeless individuals coming into the RCU have not necessarily made a deliberate decision to commit to changing their lives.  Addiction and mental illness are pervasive within the RCU and although this is common for programs serving the homeless population, the RCU clients often have no idea what they are signing up for. They simply learn from hospital staff that they might have a place to stay.

“They sometimes arrive from the hospital with only a hospital gown and no intention of getting off of the streets. Our staff has an incredible opportunity to motivate these men and women towards change, and God has done some amazing transformative work in former RCU clients that moved on to long-term programs,” explained Chris.

Some of the most dramatic RCU stories come from individuals with no options or ability to care for themselves.

“We recently worked with a gravely disabled man with several extremely disabling conditions.  We helped him gain some medical and psychiatric stability and worked with him through the process to get social security benefits. He is now able to afford housing in an environment that will provide the level of support that he needs. Without his time in the RCU, he would likely still be on the streets and unable to care for his own basic needs.”

Chris and his staff have the opportunity to make accommodations for disabling conditions that other programs are not always able to do, and individualize a treatment plan that gets these vulnerable individuals the help they need to survive.

“These men and women have been created in the image of God and have as much value as anyone else. Giving them the help they need to survive and sometimes thrive is a blessing for me and the rest of the staff. Regardless of their circumstance or their past, they are all worthy of the same opportunities that the rest of us have, and we get the chance to be the hands and feet of Christ as we serve them towards health.”

Staff Spotlight: Donna Rose

“I’ve learned that the Mission is not just about providing shelter and food, but it is a place that offers people a second chance at life,” says Donna Rose.

“I’ve learned that the Mission is not just about providing shelter and food, but it is a place that offers people a second chance at life,” says Donna Rose.

Meet Donna Rose, Case Manager at our Women and Children’s Center.

She first came to San Diego Rescue Mission as a therapist intern in May 2006. During her orientation period, a member of the executive staff made a statement she would never forget.

“He told us our lives will never be the same after this experience.  He was right,” says Donna.

“Prior to coming to San Diego Rescue Mission, I thought I had a grasp as to what homeless people deal with every day and the reasons why they have become homeless.  I did not have a clue.”

“During that year my perception about the homeless population changed.  I learned about the issues homeless people face and I learned about myself and my perceptions.  Most of all I learned that the Mission is not just about providing shelter and food, but it is a place that offers people a second chance at life,” she said.

In addition to meeting basic needs such as food and shelter, the Women and Children’s Center includes specialized classes, parenting and life skills training and skills-building geared toward helping residents avoid abusive relationships.

Therapy also plays a big part in helping to address the needs of the whole individual and provide the tools needed to overcome the challenges that led to homelessness in the first place. Treatment is provided by licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, or by interns and trainees under their supervision, working together to give our clients the best chance at living as a healthy, contributing member of our community.

Following Donna’s graduation in 2008, she worked with San Diego Hospice and volunteered at her church. During that time, she missed working at San Diego Rescue Mission.  In December 2013 she welcomed the opportunity to return as a Case Manager at the Women and Children’s Center.  Through her role as a Case Manager, she is able to counsel, teach, and guide her clients toward their individual goals which include a healthy lifestyle, obtaining employment, skills for better parenting, and a renewed hope for a better life ahead.

“There is an old saying that if you do what you love to do, you will never work a day in your life.  I love what I do.  The work is challenging, but purposeful.  Most important of all God has blessed me to be able to work with some of the most caring, amazing, God-loving people,” says Donna.

Staff Spotlight: Stephanie Rimer

Stephanie Rimmer

“This place is amazing. I never expected to behold such deep brokenness intertwined with glimpses of such miraculous healing,” says Stephanie Rimer. View Stephanie discussing our programs on our You Tube channel (9 Programs 1 Mission)

Meet Stephanie Rimer, Transitional Housing Director here at San Diego Rescue Mission.

Stephanie started working for the San Diego Rescue Mission four years ago as a therapist and social worker. She is now the Director of our 2nd Avenue Transitional Housing program designed for single adults working towards self-sufficiency.

Stephanie and her team work to address the various needs of formerly homeless individuals within a trauma informed care framework that focuses on healing previous barriers to independence. Her work entails accommodating a diverse group of individuals by offering two tracks; one focused on finding and maintaining employment, and the other finding alternate routes for client’s with disabilities to be active and resourceful within the community. Her staff is onsite twenty four hours a day, seven days a week which can take an emotional toll.

“Sorrow, mourning, joy, hilarity, loyalty and a deep sense of community are all part of the daily grind here,” she explains. “What I watch the staff do here- the pain they choose to be present for, the reflection of love, grace and truth – regardless of how uncomfortable or inconvenient it may be- is where the healing and the miracles happen for our clients. And, while it can be a messy and difficulty process that is hard to define, it’s one where clients and staff alike can see the Lord at work and we are all transformed by it.”

Stephanie believes there is a level of intimacy with the Lord that is required to be in the Transitional Housing environment and do the work well. In fact, she credits Christ for giving her staff the strength to continue the selfless work they do with such passion. “Being authentically present in the experiences with all our clients is a task beyond what any of is capable of on our own. The fuel comes from a stronghold in Christ. This is what gives us what is needed to act as the hands, feet and heart of Jesus for our clients.”

Stephanie, here team and the rest of the San Diego Rescue Mission staff is looking forward to expanding the Transitional Housing program to include women with children later this year.

Staff Spotlight: James Pope

James Pope

James Pope (left) with John Ashman (CEO of Association of Gospel Rescue Missions) and San Diego Rescue Mission’s Vice President of Development Michael Johnson at last year’s Association of Gospel Rescue Missions meeting.

Meet James Pope, Men’s Center Director here at San Diego Rescue Mission.

Originally hired as a part-time residential manager more than seven  years ago, he is now director of the Men’s Center and committed to helping homeless and addicted men complete the 12-Month Residential Recovery Program.

“I have worked in and around drug and alcohol rehabs for twenty years.  I know family members, friends, people in church and at various job assignments who have been affected negatively by various addictions to substances and mental illnesses because of substance abuse,” he explains.

James was only in 7th grade when he experienced the negative effects of drugs first-hand. It happened one day before school when a friend asked him to smoke a joint.  James refused because he was on his way to his favorite class (T.V. Production).

“If it wasn’t for the grace of God in my life, I would have died in my classroom in the 7th grade. I chose not to smoke a joint this one day with my friend before class – he chose to smoke.  His brain was erased that day because whomever he purchased his marijuana from that day had laced it with powerful PCP (it almost took his life – but probably would have been better off it had) – I never saw my old Pop-Warner football buddy and classmate again.” This was the beginning of James’ life-long involvement in drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

This story has become one of many in James’ life where he felt the interventions of God. When he worked for Caring Ministries he met a man who would attend classes and Chapel “virtually comatose” because he was so heavily medicated to counteract his schizoaffective disorders.

james pope

“I don’t work here because I have to. I work here because I get to,” says James Pope. View James discussing our programs on our You Tube channel (9 Programs 1 Mission)

“One night, I had the opportunity to preach. It was probably the worst sermon I have ever preached on the Gospel – and yet the only person to respond was this guy who was sitting way in the back and was definitely the last person I would have ever thought was paying attention.” He goes on to explain that “from that night on, he woke up out of his stupor and in one year he had secured a job, and transferred to another state (1 year later) to take care of his mother and work.” Seeing these spiritual and physical transformations has become one of James’ favorite parts about working for the Rescue Mission.

About his path in life and his work at San Diego Rescue Mission, James states, “Never did I realize that my life’s work would be with folks who are addicted and homeless – but the Lord has wired my heart this way. He led me here as I know that He has led so many others. I don’t work here because I have to.  I work here because I get to and because He ordered my steps.”