Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Rescue Mission's work will increase

Charity, Helping others, Religion Nov 6

Times may change, but not rescue mission's work

The Milwaukee Rescue Mission just celebrated its 115th anniversary. Like writer Jim Stingl, I too have childhood memories of the place. For as far back as I can remember, the rescue mission is part of my childhood. Our church went there once a month to conduct the Sunday evening service. As a young girl, my sister and cousin and I sang for the men. Later my sister played the piano and mom and I would sing a duet.

As the economy worsens, the rescue mission's "business" will increase. One of the more famous attendees was fromer Green Bay Packer Lionel Aldredge??? find link.

The Rescue mission also has a woman's facility called Joy House. It is a haven for women and children fleeing abusive home life or getting their lives back on track.


If you like to see yin and yang stay in balance, consider 1893. It was the year the elegant Pfister Hotel and the bare-bones Milwaukee Rescue Mission opened their doors.

Both offer a bed for the night, but the mission throws in eternal salvation at no extra charge.

I recall as a child venturing downtown with my family and seeing the Rescue Mission at its old location near 5th and State. If you've ever had a seat at the west end of the Bradley Center, that put you right about where the city's homeless once escaped the cold.

The mission's beacon was a lighted cross on the roof that promised "Jesus saves." In my memory, that image mixes with the smell of chocolate from the Ambrosia plant nearby.

The Milwaukee Rescue Mission moved in 1986 to a former school building at 19th and Wells, and it's going strong there today. The building sprawls with a patchwork of additions, and a cross remains on the roof.

Last night, the mission threw a party to celebrate its 115th birthday. By any standard, that's a lot of rescuing.

The shelter's history has been captured in a new book called "Finding Hope: Restoring Lives Through God's Grace." It's impossible to cover so many years in the space I have, but let me give you a few highlights and impressions from the book and from a tour of the mission I received Thursday from Executive Director Patrick Vanderburgh.

On any given night, the mission is home to about 300 men, women and children, plus it runs a school for kindergarten through 4th-graders. The mission's annual budget of $7.5 million is covered almost entirely by private donations.

It's a success anytime a homeless person is invited inside for a meal and a bed, but the mission is especially proud of its guests who find jobs, homes of their own, families and self-respect. It's not easy. The long-term recovery rate nationally for the drug-addicted and hard-core alcoholics who show up at shelters is just 6%, Vanderburgh said.

His wife, Barb, runs the wing for women and their children, who live apart from the men. It's called Joy House. Buses pick up some of the children at the shelter and take them to Milwaukee public schools. Many of these families have been evicted, run out of money or fled from domestic violence. Joy is exactly what they could use.

Credit for inspiring the Rescue Mission goes to the Rev. Benjamin Fay Mills, a roving evangelist who spoke in Milwaukee in 1893 during a financially shaky time in America. The shelter opened at 3rd and Wells and remained there until the 5th St. facility was built in 1910.

In the early days, the book says, the men had their duds fumigated and they paid whatever they could afford for food and lodging. Today, they are not charged for emergency or long-term shelter, though some are put to work. Schooling, computer labs and libraries are available for use. GED diplomas hang proudly on the wall.

The book gives this bit of unflattering information about Milwaukee: "Bigotry still hung heavy in the air in some parts of the city in the 1940s, so Milwaukee Rescue Mission opened its doors to traveling teams in the Negro professional baseball league."

Among the statistics kept at the Rescue Mission, even now, is the number of men who experience religious conversion. It's an inexact science, Vanderburgh said, and some guys have been saved and resaved.

"If you total them all up, the whole city has been converted three or four times," he joked.

The mission serves some 700 meals a day.

Kitchen supervisor Glenn Rohde left behind his job as chef at the exclusive University Club to serve the homeless. He usually starts work at 4 in the morning, and he offers food service training to men badly in need of job skills. On Thanksgiving, they cook nearly 1 ton of turkeys.

We ran into John Haydon on the tour. He's a semi-retired lawyer who volunteers at least once a week to help rescue mission residents with financial issues, criminal matters, taxes and other legal entanglements. Over the past decade, these residents have paid off $230,400 in debts, especially child support. Haydon helped them make that happen.

"I tell the men you've just gotten off the deadbeat pile," he said.

With the economy tanking and temperatures dropping, Vanderburgh said he expects to see more people showing up at the shelter's door.

They will meet the challenge, he said. And they will pray.


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