Randy Phillips ate his cornflakes Friday morning at the Calvary Assembly of God Church in Merced and looked at a small rock he keeps in his pocket. It’s a part of the now razed Merced County Rescue Mission where Phillips and other homeless men and women used to get help.
The Ragged Piece of Stucco is a small piece of the building that once stood at 1921 Canal Street and opened as the Merced County Rescue Mission in 1991.
The building was demolished about two weeks ago, but the rescue mission continues to serve recovering drug addicts, the homeless and more vulnerable groups through existing programs that are now scattered throughout the city.
The loss of the building created problems for those seeking help from the Mission, but it also made things easier.
Phillips, a 52-year-old man who sleeps on the streets, said the new location of the Mission’s meal program at Calvary on R Street is actually more convenient for him.
“It’s a good thing it’s here instead of downtown,” Phillips said. “This location is better for a lot of people. For me, it’s closer to where I sleep.
Cecilia Garza never used the meal plan until she moved to the new location late last year. Garza, 30, a recovering drug addict, stays at the women’s shelter on D Street. She leaves the shelter around 6 am each morning and walks or takes the bus to Calvary each morning.
“Without this meal,” she said, “to tell you the truth, I would go without eating.
Patricia Herring Meidel, who was previously homeless, now volunteers for the meal program. She said attendance has dropped a bit since the move and volunteers are struggling to get the word out to more people who could benefit.
“They all think there is no more mission, but here we are,” Herring Meidel said. She and the other volunteers strive to spread the news through word of mouth and handing out flyers.
Earlier this year, firefighters judged the 100-year-old rescue mission building on Canal Street to pose a security risk, and mission leaders quickly began seeking to move services to safer facilities.
Although the old mission building is now a dirt lot secured by a chain link fence, programs and services are thriving, said Phil Schmauss, the mission’s marketing director.
The mission accommodates people under various programs in seven houses scattered throughout different parts of Merced. Some are group homes for sober living, others are for people recovering from medical problems.
A room at the hostel
One of these programs, called “A Room at the Inn,” provides transitional housing for a family trying to get back on their feet.
“Our hope is that they won’t have to repeat the process,” said Schmauss. “We are creating an action plan to get them into permanent housing. We rent to family for up to a year and follow them for a year, helping them clean up their history and all the exceptional things in their backgrounds. The program is a springboard.
Cristal and Matthew Morales, both in their 30s, moved into the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home on Suzanne Court on June 1 with their three young daughters – Yireh, 7; Zowa, 5; and Rhema Star, 1. Cristal is over six months pregnant with a fourth child.
The rescue mission bought the house with the grant money. Initially, the leaders hoped to house several families there, but to meet the financing needs, only one family can live in the house.
“It’s a question of quality, not quantity,” said Schmauss. “If there was more than one family here, someone might slip through the cracks.”
The Morales family will live in the house for a year, building a rental history, cleaning up their credit and striving to become self-sufficient.
Finding a home for a family of five has not been easy, Cristal said. Child welfare services removed the couple’s daughters from them over a year ago. The couple needed housing to pick up their children.
“When CPS came and took the kids, it was the most devastating thing that ever happened to us,” Cristal said. “It was the ugliest feeling.”
Crystal and Matthew have lived in an RV and their car for periods of time while filing apartment applications everywhere. “I was starting to get tired. I asked God, ‘Lord, do you remember we are here?’ We did everything to get our daughters back, ”said Cristal. “We said, ‘Phil, we need your help. We can’t find anything. If you can help us, we would be very grateful. It has been a long road.
Now Matthew has a job in construction and is working to get his driver’s license. The family is moving into their new home just in time to prepare for the arrival of the new baby.
Matthew started pulling weeds in the garden before planting a lawn. He hopes to build a canopy for the shade. After living in the house for barely a week, the house is sparsely furnished with beds, but no kitchen table yet.
“God opens doors for those who seek him,” said Matthew. “The rescue mission opened doors for us. I want to work on the house for the next family, so that they can be comfortable and enjoy some beautiful green grass.
Schmauss said that although the rescue mission building was demolished, programs like this were able to continue with the help of the community.
“People have really rallied behind us,” he said. “We facilitate these services as a faith-based organization. But we believe that the ministry of God is really the mission of the people.
The rescue mission is working closely with city and county officials to help identify a “friendly” location to rebuild an overnight shelter with a commercial kitchen.
If community members wish to specifically sponsor the Morales family, contact Phil Schmauss at 209-722-9269 ext. 14.
This story was originally published June 9, 2017 5:12 pm.