Throughout its history, the San Diego Rescue Mission has established itself as a city leader on the issue of homelessness in San Diego.
While our programs and services have adapted and evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of the men, women and children experiencing homelessness in our city, our focus on faith, integrity compassion and excellence have remained the same throughout the decades.
Our story began in 1954, when a group of San Diego church and business leaders, lead by Arnold Theisen, met to address the growing plight of the community’s homeless and hungry.
With a resolve to meet the growing need, the City Rescue Mission was founded in 1955 and immediately began providing food, clothing, and spiritual guidance to our city’s homeless. In 1958, this soup kitchen expanded its services to include short-term shelter and services for up to 85 men. Two years later, the Mission made history by opening the first shelter for women and children in San Diego County.
As city redevelopment efforts intensified in the mid-1980s, the number of people experiencing homelessness grew to a crisis level. Once again, the Mission (now known as the San Diego Rescue Mission) responded by opening a new and much larger facility for men at 1150 J Street in 1985. During this time, the organization also took a new, innovative approach in seeking long-term solutions to homelessness by the creation of a new program providing education and job training.
In 1993, the purchase and renovation of buildings on South 16th Street allowed the San Diego Rescue Mission to open a new Women and Children’s Center. In 2000, the Mission created a new overnight emergency shelter for women and children, Nueva Vida Haven, to address the growing population of families in need. Nueva Vida Haven continues to serve 60 women and children nightly.
In 2004, the San Diego Rescue Mission had the opportunity to consolidate all its rehabilitation programs under one roof. The former Harbor View Medical Center on 120 Elm Street would become the Mission’s permanent home. This move would more than double its capacity to serve men, women, and children in need.
It was here at 120 Elm Street, that Mission Academy, our year-long residential program, was born. This program deepened the focus on long-term recovery and rehabilitation by creating a trauma-informed, holistic approach to service. In 2015, a state-licensed, no cost preschool was established to serve children ages 2-5 years old experiencing homelessness. This preschool continues to be the only one of its kind in San Diego County.
In 2020, the Rescue Mission partnered with Bread of Life Rescue Mission in Oceanside, officially establishing Bread of Life as our North County Center. Providing emergency services, food and resource navigation until May of 2022, Bread of Life closed to prepare for the opening of our 50-bed Oceanside Navigation Center in late summer. With the vision to impact homelessness county-wide, the Mission is now exploring new opportunities to deepen and expand their efforts throughout the county.
Today, the San Diego Rescue Mission serves thousands of men, women, and children each year through our no-cost, Christ-centered programs with the goal of keeping people off the streets – permanently.
Learn more about our programs here and find out how you can help!
June 1, 1955
Arnold Thiesen leaves his position as superintendent of the Fresno Rescue Mission to start a much needed Rescue Mission in San Diego.
August 1, 1955
Called City Rescue Mission initially, the San Diego Rescue Mission’s first service is held at 428 G Street in a building that had been a poker parlor for the previous 25 years.
December 1, 1955
The Mission now serves over 1,500 hot meals a day and begins its first daily radio broadcast on KGB-AM 1360.
August 1, 1956
The mission offers its first weekly medical clinic.
November 1, 1958
The Mission moves into a new facility (formerly a hotel) located at 527 5th Avenue in downtown San Diego. Overnight shelter begins for men. One year later, the third floor was designated as a shelter for women and children – the city’s first!
Did You Know?
January 1, 1959
The huge neon cross on the front of the Mission’s new building cost $345. It was 8.5” tall by 5.5” Wide. The cross continually flashed “Jesus Saves.”
August 1, 1960
The Mission opens its newly renovated Dining Hall with capacity for 110…A whiskey bar was located in this same space prior to the renovations!
Did You Know?
January 1, 1961
On Thanksgiving Day in 1961, the Mission hosted a “Mortgage Burning” ceremony to commemorate raising nearly $36,000 for the new facility.
April 1, 1967
Opening of the City Rescue Mission’s Goodwin Family Shelter at 14th and J Streets.
February 1, 1968
The Mission now feeds 5,000 men, women, and children each month.
May 1, 1970
135 Children have made use of the Goodwin playground facility during the last four Saturday afternoons. After playtime the children attend Bible Clubs, followed by ice cream, cookies and punch.
Did You Know?
January 1, 1971
In 1970 the Mission went through more than 3 lbs. of coffee each day!
May 1, 1973
Construction begins on the conversion of the Mission’s 2nd Floor to an expanded Men’s Shelter to more than 60 beds. The center for Women and Children moves completely into the building at 14th and J Streets.
October 1, 1975
The Mission serves its one millionth free meal and has now provided nearly a quarter of a million nights of free lodging.
January 1, 1978
The Mission dedicates its brand new 300 seat Chapel, made possible through the purchase of an adjacent building with lot several years prior.
August 1, 1980
City Rescue Mission changes its name to San Diego Rescue Mission, citing confusion with the Mission being an agency of the City.
April 1, 1984
The Mission holds a ground breaking ceremony for a new 48,000 square foot facility at 1150 J Street.
December 1, 1985
The Mission begins its Food Recovery Ministry, now called Partners for Hunger Relief, to collect food from grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, and hotels that would otherwise be discarded.
June 1, 1986
The Mission dedicates the new J Street building. It includes a chapel, dining hall, men’s quarters, health clinic, recreation area, and library.
Did You Know?
January 1, 1987
In 1991 Mrs. America Jill Scott visited the Mission and shared her testimony.
February 1, 1992
The San Diego City Council Issues a conditional use permit for a Women’s and Children’s Center at 936 South 16th St. There is no signage in order to protect our women and children.
June 1, 1993
The Rachel Grosvenor Center for Women and Children is opened.
July 1, 1997
The Mission opens a Central Receiving Center for the tons of goods donated each year. Within months it opens two thrift stores.
Did You Know?
January 1, 1998
On January 25, 1998 fifty men from the San Diego Rescue Mission’s rehabilitation program participated in the Super Bowl held at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Their duties included breaking down and setting up the stage for the half-time festivities.
December 1, 2000
San Diego Rescue Mission opens Nueva Vida Haven (NVH) in response to the increasing need for emergency shelter services for homeless families. Each night, 60+ battered, homeless, or poor women and children, 12 and under, turn to the Mission as we are the only walk-in after hours shelter.
January 1, 2004
San Diego Rescue Mission consolidated all of its rehabilitation programs into the former Harbor View Medical Center at 120 Elm Street, doubling its capacity to help more people than ever.
September 1, 2005
The Mission celebrates 50 years of serving the least, last and lost and also dedicates the Elm Street building.
December 1, 2006
The Mission Opens its new Outpatient Therapy Center. This Psychotherapy Center is a free service to the community. Therapy is provided at no cost to individuals, families, children and couples to those who are homeless, at risk for homelessness or those who are unable to afford therapy.
September 1, 2008
A brand new playground is dedicated for the Mission’s Children.
January 1, 2009
The Rescue Mission opened the first non-VA recuperative care unit in the county providing 28 beds to homeless individuals who have been discharged from hospitals, but have on-going medical needs.
January 2, 2014
San Diego Rescue Mission opened a multi-phase Transitional Housing program for single men and women followed by a program for women with children in 2015.
September 1, 2014
As another step to offer a full continuum of services to clients, the Rescue Mission opened a preschool for the children of mothers staying in our emergency shelter, as well as, mothers in our year-long rehabilitation program. The school is licensed by the State of California.
January 1, 2017
In partnership with the San Diego Community College District the organization built upon its tradition of providing practical help with an even stronger emphasis on education as a means of improving clients’ employment opportunities post-graduation.
January 2, 2017
Donnie Dee takes the helm of the San Diego Rescue Mission as President & CEO after nearly three decades in various roles at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
October 1, 2020
The Mission merges with Bread of Life Rescue Mission to expand critical services to North County.