With winter cold setting in, the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission has announced the opening of its new housing program at its Niagara Falls facility (1317 Portage Road).
Since acquiring the property from the YMCA last summer, countless volunteers have been working hard at cleaning, painting and polishing the 56 single-occupancy rooms on the building's top two floors.
The goal of this program is to provide affordable and safe housing in a Christian environment. Mission Director Shaun Smith had a vision for such a housing program years ago, and it is now becoming a reality.
"We used to pick up people for our weekly Bible study and many would be living in dirty rooming houses, where drug use and abuse was prevalent," he said. "People would often get taken advantage of in these unsafe places, and I would say to myself, 'What happened to the days when Christians would help take care of these people in various church homes?' "
The Oishei Foundation's 2013 Niagara Falls Community report (Mobile Safety Net) stated, "Housing, in all of its forms, is a great need area. There is insufficient affordable and appropriate rental housing for low-income populations." The report also states 55 percent of rental housing units are substandard.
Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission's new residency program will not only offer low-cost housing, but also give the opportunity to build Christian character into the lives of its residents through innovative programming and structure.
"We're actually carrying forth a legacy from the YMCA's early residential program with this initiative," Smith said.
He referenced a copyrighted 1931 YMCA "Purpose and Objective" statement, which was discovered while renovating rooms. It stated the organization was aimed at a "worldwide fellowship of men united by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ for the purpose of building a Christian personality and a Christian society."
"This concept really resonated with us, as we've always had the desire to not only help meet a deep housing need, but also offer residents repeated opportunities to grow closer to God through a variety of daily programs offered within the walls of our building here on Portage," Smith said. "People will have the opportunity to experience the transforming power of Jesus Christ, giving purpose and potential to their lives."
The standard room at Portage Road is furnished with a bed, desk and built-in wardrobe/dresser.
Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission's residential program is open to men of low income who desire structure in their lives. Illegal drug use, drunkenness, gambling, use of pornography and profane language are not tolerated in the residential program, and, just as the YMCA's regulations had stated, breaking these can be grounds for dismissal. Smoking is prohibited in the building and there is a nightly curfew of 10 p.m.
Though not mandated, those in the program have the opportunity to partake in classes, programs and events offered by the Gospel Mission. These will include Bible studies, daily chapel services, Christ-centered 12-step groups such as Celebrate Recovery, as well as fitness activities. Their goal is to help the whole person, with mind, body and spiritual growth.
For those who are interested and qualify, there is a required deposit of $100 and a monthly program fee of $325. Applications will be taken at the facility from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with a $25 application fee.
Operating at 1023 Ferry Ave., since 2010, Gospel Mission staff said they hope to relocate the popular neighborhood meal program, men's emergency shelter and long-term life recovery program to the Portage Road facility as soon as possible. Plans to open both emergency shelter beds and a life recovery program for homeless or struggling women and children are also in the near vision of the ministry, as it is working on capitalizing a total $1.5 million renovation project to realize this necessary and important goal.
The Gospel Mission seeks to work with community leaders and like-minded groups to meet real needs in the city, including the utilization of the gymnasium and exercise areas for physical fitness activities - especially for children and teens. It is already helping a local organization with a youth basketball program.
Leaders of the Gospel Mission are also looking at the idea of social enterprise business development, which will not only supply necessary income, but help to create employment opportunities and job training for the people it serves.
"It's really a win-win for everybody." Smith said. "It won't be the same old thrift store idea, but forward-thinking, profitable, business initiatives that will create both career paths and living wage job growth - something Niagara Falls residents can truly benefit from."
He added, "The existing safety-net system, while helpful for acute needs, in the long term actually stifles creativity in individuals who certainly have incredible, but latent potential to contribute greatly to our society. Our current system of help can become a generational trap, and is evidenced by the lack of business development in our blighted, urban areas like the Main Street district. We want to help change that, and this help needs to come one person at a time, especially with the younger generation who we are now seeing more and more in the emergency shelter.
"Truly, 'People fail for a lack of vision,' as Scripture says."
Smith added, "We are so grateful to the many people, churches, companies and civic groups who have stepped forward to help support our growing ministry. We've seen many miracles in the lives of people who have come to the mission for help, and we now have opportunity to serve a much larger segment of the people of Niagara Falls.
"Our ministry has not only become a place of shelter, but a ministry that reaches the lives of every person within the most blighted areas of our community. The backside of this evolving story is that we have become a place where the people of God's people can break out the walls of their churches and live out what Jesus Christ calls each of us to do: Shine His light to those around us, welcoming in anyone and everyone needing help or even having a desire to serve with us.
"We can't wait to see what God will continue to do as we step forward, becoming a 'City Center for Christ'!"