Service Learning in The Midnight Mission: Giving Homeless People a Second Chance

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Our group chose to volunteer at The Midnight Mission in Los Angeles, CA. Volunteering at The Midnight Mission was a wonderful learning experience which allowed us to work with people who are experiencing homelessness. According to The Midnight Mission (2019), the organization offers men, women, and children who are experiencing homelessness a path to self-sufficiency. The Midnight Mission has several resources for individuals who reside in the Skid Row area of Downtown Los Angeles. Their emergency services include: 12-step recovery, family living, job training, education, and work development programs (The Midnight Mission, 2019). Through these programs, The Midnight Mission aspires to provide the residents of Skid Row a bridge to a productive and self-sufficient future (The Midnight Mission, 2019).

The Organization’s History

Tom Liddecoat, also known as the “father of the poor,” established the organization in 1914 (The Midnight Mission, 2019). In 1933, The Midnight Mission was designated as the “California Emergency Relief Station No. 1” by the federal government for aiding those who were drastically affected by the Great Depression (The Midnight Mission, 2019). Moving forward, in 1994, the Midnight Mission established the HomeLight Family Living Program which provided residential services to entire families (The Midnight Mission, 2019). Most recently, the organization implemented Crisis and Bridge Housing Programs (The Midnight Mission, 2019).

Volunteering at The Midnight Mission

The organization has grown and thrived for decades with the help of volunteers who carry out The Midnight Mission’s daily tasks, functions, and programs. There are numerous volunteer opportunities available at The Midnight Mission. Our group chose to volunteer with the meal service team. The Midnight Mission’s kitchen serves 3 meals a day, 7 days a week in the Guest Dining Hall (The Midnight Mission, 2019). According to their website, The Midnight Mission serves roughly 1 million meals annually (The Midnight Mission, 2019). The organization’s free meal service is the only source of nutritious food for some of those who are living on the streets of Skid Row.

Why We Chose the Midnight Mission

While we searched for service agencies in Los Angeles, we came across the Midnight Mission’s website. According to The Midnight Mission’s website (2019), “The Midnight Mission is the oldest continuously operating human service organization in the Los Angeles region.” We chose this particular organization because we were eager to learn more about it since it had been providing the residents of Skid Row services for so long. Furthermore, they offered flexible volunteer opportunities throughout the week. When we contacted the agency, the Midnight Mission’s volunteer coordinator provided a friendly and prompt response with detailed instructions on service, parking, and what to expect. Prior to contacting The Midnight Mission, we reached out to other agencies; however, their volunteer services were very limited and required reservations weeks or months in advance. Ultimately, the Midnight Mission seemed both interesting and made volunteering feasible for everyone in the group.

Our Expectations versus Our Experience

When we signed up to volunteer, we received a detailed email with guidelines with directions to the agency, how to enter the building, and what to wear. However, that email did not provide any information regarding the volunteering experience itself. Previously, some of us had volunteered providing meal services in other settings such as fundraisers, hospitals, and convalescent homes. However, neither of us had volunteered in a kitchen on Skid Row; thus, we did not know exactly what to expect. We expected to serve meals, but not cook the kitchen.

Since many of us volunteered on different days and times, our experiences varied; however, we contributed to the preparation and distribution of the meals while maintaining a clean and safe environment. In the back room, we helped move and sort incoming donations from companies such as Nestle and Starbucks. The items were sorted by type (such as bread, snack packs, etc.) and meal category (breakfast, lunch, dinner). We did not do any cooking. If we were placed in the kitchen, we assisted the chefs by cleaning the kitchen area. In the front, we helped serve meals. The meals at The Midnight Mission are buffet style and served in a line. When people come through the line, we are only allowed to give them 1 scoop/item per section. Individuals are allowed to go through the line as many times as they want as long as they follow the rules. When working on the line, we are also in charge of enforcing the rules.

Who We Volunteered With

We volunteered with high school students, church groups, company employees and other individuals simply wanted to get more involved in their community. It was an amazing experience meeting and getting to know people through the volunteer experience. The environment was warm, friendly and welcoming. The volunteers were helpful and engaging. The Midnight Mission staff were helpful, appreciative, and kind. On one occasion, the staff gifted us snacks (chocolate chip cookies and bottles of Nestle cold whipped lattes) after our shift.

Overall, we enjoyed our service at the Midnight Mission. Based on what we know thus far and our experiences, the Midnight Mission is a wonderful organization that genuinely cares for the residents of Skid Row. We would highly recommend volunteering and donating to this deserving organization.

Learning Outcomes

The Daily Life and Routine of the Population Studied

While volunteering, we had the opportunity of speaking to some of the individuals who call skid row their home. Every person’s daily life and routine varies based on factors such as The Ways People in this Population Adapt or Rebel Against Their Situations. Sadly, individuals who are experiencing homelessness are forced to adapt or rebel into certain situations. This is due to the criminalization of homelessness.

The Cause of this Population’s Situation

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Several factors contribute to the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. In the media, “lack of housing” is regularly declared as one of the primary causes for homelessness; however, that claim is false. As we have learned in class, there are sufficient vacant spaces to provide Los Angelenos experiencing homelessness a place of residence and shelter. On the contrary, research shows that “poverty, unemployment, and lack of affordable housing are commonly recognized causes of homelessness” (SAMHSA, 2019). Lack of affordable housing is a large issue and a primary factor contributing to the homelessness crisis in the United States and Los Angeles, to be more specific. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (2019), approximately 12 million households in the United States use half of their annual income to pay for housing. This is a serious issue given that “families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care” (HUD, 2019).

I had the opportunity of speaking to an older woman who called the streets of Skid Row her home. She and her husband moved to the U.S. from Mexico decades ago, with hopes of fulfilling “The American Dream” and they did. The woman mentioned that her husband landed a very well-paying job in construction.

How the Midnight Mission is Addressing the Needs of the People

The Midnight Mission has been providing a service to the homeless population since the early 1900’s. Since then Midnight Mission has become a non-profit organization, that has widely expanded its services to people in need. Midnight Mission started off serving food at midnight after church services for men on skid row. By 1933 they served a major role in providing food and services during the great depression and was then named the number 1 emergency relief station by the federal government. By the 1990’s, its was evident that the homeless population had worsened, so the non- profit expanded services to families. One program was the Homelight Living program, which provides a safe living space for those families that are affected by poverty, domestic violence and addiction. Another program that was just put into operation 2016, called Courtyard OC program, which provides a safe outdoor living space for those who do not want to live in negative elements. From there the most vulnerable are selects to be moved into Midnight Missions “life-saving services.” Finally their newest, the Housing and Bridge Housing program, which offers housing, health care, job training meals and more to women facing homelessness. Over one million meals are served a year and builds awareness about families experiencing homeless.

The Midnight Mission non- profit provides meals, programs, medical attention to many homeless people. The services that are offered, address and acknowledge the everyday struggles and obstacles the homeless face in getting basic life necessities. Over time the organization has evolved and changed from the original purpose for religion and food after mass to men, to providing an array of services to all sorts of people.

Evaluation on the Effectiveness of the Organization

When Midnight Mission was first started, it was for the purpose of helping religious men who faced financial struggles and malnutrition. This was a negative because it neglected the other majority of people, including women, children and non religious people from the food being offered. But over time had evolved to help all people despite their gender or religious beliefs.

Reflection/Discussion

It is a different experience in person than learning about it. The quick tour of Midnight Mission showed the many services they provide including meal service. There are different sections of the facility where certain homeless individuals are sanctioned off, like women who suffered from domestic violence. They are secluded to one end of the building next to the library that is equipped with a security guard. Midnight Mission allows for anyone to come and get meals during the service. I didn’t expect for the coordinators to allow them to go back in line as many times as they want until the cut off time. It was surprising to see how few people come in to get meals. A few let us know how they were coming in to take food home and they would even show us their food containers. Many of them put food in their backpack. In the article, “Los Angeles declares ‘state of emergency’ on homelessness”, Los Angeles is home to a large number of homeless individuals living in Skid Row. Midnight Mission feeds homeless individuals in a short time frame. The state of emergency is needed due to the rise of the homeless population. It is constantly growing. The proposal suggested by the mayor was to get $13 million in emergency funding to increase the services and housing. The funding could go to neighboring facilities and shelters to expand their service which will tremendously benefit the homeless population, like Midnight Mission. The number of homeless individuals on Skid Row showed how much the emergency funding is absolutely needed to fund a large number of individuals that are on the streets. Many of the individuals’ tents are clustered together throughout the streets. The small facility of Midnight Mission is only able to house a certain amount of people, but it is capable of providing people various services.

The service-learning raised questions about whether forty-five is enough time for the large homeless population to receive meals at an appropriate time. It also made us think about whether there is sufficient advertisement going around for these meals services. Like mentioned before very few people showed up to the meal times we attended and many were able to go around multiple times. Los Angeles has the largest homelessness population. The homelessness population is continuously growing despite the efforts that are implemented. It is great that Midnight Mission could help the homeless population with services ranging from medical to food, but it is not enough because it is a small facility. They can only do so much with the little funding and will power. It creates an issue of how many of those individuals are able to grab a meal within the meal service time frame. It is great that people are able to go back in line and get more food as many times as they want. The meal service could expand the meal service to an hour instead of forty-five minutes, so it can give people more time to get a meal if they are coming from a far distance from the meal service. The further exploration would be to have a good estimate of how many homeless individuals are in the surrounding area. Another suggestion would be to have meals prepared to be to go. This way it would allow volunteers to take a step out and give meals to those who possibly can’t make it into the facility.

The implications they could provide at a social level policy is to provide more funding to shelter and homeless services facilities in general. Midnight Missions caters to those living in Skid Row, which is a fairly large community. Skid Row is home to many individuals. If you were to ask them where they live, they will tell you the cross streets. Funding is constantly essential for the homeless population. The homelessness crisis in Los Angeles causes limited housing available and services. As a result, it leads to more people living on the streets and unable to get services in a timely manner. The expansion of shelters and services will provide more opportunities. There needs to be millions of dollars to be invested into the community to make a dent into improving the homeless population. The slow progression towards decreasing the population is not enough due to the fact that more and more people are ending up in the streets every day.

The service-learning provided me insight into assisting the homeless individuals. Volunteering at Midnight Mission helped me understand the structure of what is being done to prepare for the meal service. In addition to the other services on site. It is a rewarding feeling to give out meals to them. In the future, it has encouraged me to be interested in street medicine or becoming more involved with the community. I could donate essential products at my local homeless facility or shelter. Shelters and facilities constantly need basic necessities to be donated to them. I could volunteer more at my nearby shelter. Street Medicine is where Nurse practitioners and other medical personnel provide medical care to homeless individuals. The street medicine field is mainly a physical job. It requires the nurse practitioners and other medical personnel to go out in the field and find those who need assistance. Many homeless individuals need medical attention, but they might not be comfortable letting medical personnel access their health issues. They triage them to where they are staying if they are not comfortable going to the clinic. The relationship between the individual is trust. Street medicine could be different every day. The career field would create many relationships within the homeless community. All the basic medical necessities are able to fit in a backpack.

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