Visalia Rescue Mission Hits the Hill

“No one practices “no” politics. You either practice good politics or bad politics.” This is the first nugget of wisdom we received from Al Oliver, who at the time two years ago, was the new Executive Director at Visalia Rescue Mission. Those words have rung true since then and were truer still while spending three days last month at our nation’s capitol. 

SENATOR DIANE FEINSTEIN AND VRM STAFF, KERN COUNTY MISSION, LA, AND SAN DIEGO MISSION REPS

SENATOR DIANE FEINSTEIN AND VRM STAFF, KERN COUNTY MISSION, LA, AND SAN DIEGO MISSION REPS

We had the opportunity to join representatives from 33 other rescue missions at an annual forum hosted by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, which has a total membership of 300. Each representative came with the same questions: “What do we need to know, and what do we need to do, to ensure we can continue to serve our guests to the best of our ability?” While the services offered vary with each mission, it was apparent our overall purpose in mission work is the same: to help the down and out in our communities. The means by which we are able to help varied greatly, with some missions accepting federal and state funding in one area or another. 

Even so, in the words of AGRM president, John Ashman, “If money could fix poverty, the government would have already done that.” In fact, a recent study by Baylor University, “Assessing the Faith-Based Response to Homelessness in America,” revealed nearly 60% of emergency shelter beds for the homeless population in 11 major cities surveyed are provided by faith-based organizations. One mission representative said it well, “People don’t become homeless when they run out of money, at least not right away. They become homeless when they run out of relationships.” 

We learned about a potential change to charitable deductions in the draft tax plan, and how these changes would affect non-profits like us. It’s estimated those changes would reduce giving by between 4.5% and 9%, which for VRM, would result in between $72,000 and $144,000. If we combine that potential drop in giving with upcoming increases in our operational expenses — like minimum wage increases, as well as an additional 12-cents per gallon for gasoline, potential health care changes, and more — we could find ourselves in very rough shape.

VRM Director of Development, Ryan Stillwater, in front of White House

VRM Director of Development, Ryan Stillwater, in front of White House

On our last day, we had the opportunity to communicate these concerns to our elected representatives in both houses of Congress. We did our best to practice good politics. We shared a video of our VRM graduates sharing their stories of loss and redemption, and we spoke to the potential changes in charitable deductions and their effect would on our ministries. We discussed the value of faith-based organizations and the areas where Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who we met with, and Health and Human Services (HHS) could practice good politics by collaborating more closely and seeing more of an impact in local communities — all while saving money.

There are many voices and concerns needing the attention of our nation’s elected representatives, and at the end of the day we were just one small whisper in the cacophony that is DC. While VRM is intentionally increasing our involvement in these top-down conversations, we do so with the truth that while there are many resources focused on transition (homeless to housed), rescue missions like us across the country are equally focused on transformation. While an individual’s spiritual and emotional wellbeing is less tangible than a roof and four walls, it is what lies beneath the surface that often requires the most attention…and resources. 

Ryan Stillwater

Ryan is a longtime Visalian — a graduate of Redwood High School and Fresno Pacific University with a bachelors degree in Christian Ministries. Intrigued by the partnership between the Visalia Rescue Mission and the City of Visalia, Ryan began putting his vision on paper as VRM's Oval Venue Coordinator in August 2013, and has sparked the interest of many throughout the community. Ryan and his wife Amy (a Mt. Whitney High School graduate) have been married for seven years and have three amazing kids — ages 6, 4, and 4.