By Dick Buyer
It has been a haven for the destitute in Albany for more than five decades.
From a modest storefront on Madison Avenue in 1949, to a site on Hudson Avenue, to its present location at 259 S. Pearl Street, the new Capital City Rescue Mission (CCRM) has mushroomed into a modern two-story facility serving both men and women.
“We are the largest homeless shelter in the northeast offering a multitude of services,” said Executive Director/Pastor Perry Jones, adding that the Capital District has between 10-12 other homeless facilities.
The 38,000 square foot, $4.3 million faith-based shelter is totally funded by gifts from individuals, churches, foundations and corporations.
Overseeing the day-to-day operations is Jones, who has been at the Mission since 1982. He was generous with his time and eager to share information about the shelter’s comfort to the needy. Their goal is to provide for a client’s whole person—body, mind and spirit, and return them to society as productive citizens.
During the tour, it became obvious that the scope and breadth of the CCRM resembles a small town.
Among the many features and services are a dormitory that can sleep 150 men, free clothing for clients, meals and a free medical clinic staffed by physicians affiliated with St. Peter’s Hospital and a nurse practitioner (which served 4,238 clients last year). There’s also a chapel, which last year topped nearly 33,000 in attendance, indicating a search for spiritual values.
The Innovative Learning Center is staffed by a full-time instructor who deals with literacy, learning disabilities, writing, computer skills, General Education Development (GED) and instruction in a variety of skills to equip the jobless for the workforce.
For men with long-term problems including alcoholism, drug addiction and unemployment, they are enrolled in a nine-month program called “New Life” which offers counseling and recovery sessions.
“Currently, we have twenty-five men completing this plan,” said Jones. Most men are eligible to apply for a job at the Mission when they are stable.
For women with or without children, there is the “New Faith Family Center” designed to help those suffering from domestic abuse and other problems, such as addiction.
Twenty-five women are now living in eight apartments located in a separate adjacent building. Some of the women had their children removed, only to be returned later, implying that the Mission fosters positive parental behavior.
On the second floor, there are basic individual rooms for long-term clients and more elaborate ones for staff, some of whom “graduated” from one or more of the programs. Ever expanding for additional space, there seemed to be several areas where construction was in progress.
Another future project, said Jones, will be “supportive housing” for clients who will pay minimum rent—what he terms “reinforcement after graduating.”
How do the homeless arrive at the shelter? “We have walk-ins, referrals from police and hospitals and word of mouth,” replied Jones, adding that the homeless profiles have changed in the last 23 years since he began his career with this segment of the population.
“They were older then, mostly men in their fifties,” he said. “Now, the average age has dropped to the thirties and forties and their problems derive from alcohol and job losses.”
Age-wise, the youngest woman at the Mission is 30, the oldest 60. The youngest male is 18, and a few veteran males are in their 60s.
Categorized by ethnicity, 40 percent are African Americans, 40 percent are Caucasian and 20 percent are Hispanic. “Jews and Asians rarely comprise the homeless population,” said Jones.
Food & clothes
An important part of the Mission’s job is to make sure each client is served a hot meal every day. This is possible in large part from donations, which Jones said come from “every imaginable source”—Price Chopper, Hannaford, the Regional Food Bank (CCRM is a charter member), Freihofer, the State, restaurants, and leftovers from Bar Mitzvahs and other gatherings.
In 2004, 137,011 hot meals (which amounts to 450 meals a day) were served. “It cost $286,000 to feed the clients for one year with $60,000 stemming from contributions,” said Jones.
During the holidays, the Mission feeds 1,400 on Thanksgiving and 2,000 at Christmas.
“We also have gifts for every age group at Christmas” said Jones, noting that Avon donates a truckload of its products, although the Mission pays $2,500 for vehicles to deliver the items.
Another necessity—clothing—is also provided by the Mission. Last year, more than 66,000 pieces of usable donated clothing were distributed to needy men, women and children. On of a tour through an adjacent building (a former shirt factory) recently purchased by the facility, we saw a forklift move bales of clothing from one room to another.
“That’s apparel in poor condition,” explained Jones. “It’s baled in one-thousand pound bundles, and then sold to a Canadian company. We get $100 for each unit and the monies are used to sustain our programs.”
The generosity of volunteers
Each day, a full-time staff of 35, and between 20-25 volunteers sustains the array of services. The latter play an essential role in the Mission’s operations. Dipping into her vacation time, Registered Nurse Judith Martin, a full-time employee with the State Health Department, has been donating two Tuesdays a month for a year working in the clinic.
“The Mission is a worthwhile organization. It needs help and I am rewarded by doing this,” she said.
For Bob Hebler of North Greenbush, his 25 years of volunteerism at the Mission was prompted by religious motives.
“I first started due to my mother-in-law who began playing the piano when the building was located on Hudson Avenue,” the 65-year-old said.
Aside from serving meals, Hebler also sings gospels, plays the keyboard and preaches the second Friday of each month.
Another loyal volunteer is Bruce Marchese, 50, of Rensselaer. He has two decades of service at the Mission preparing meals, mailings, doing repair work when needed, and helping organize the gift giving at Christmas.
“I’m primarily a chapel speaker,” said Marchese, who devotes two to three days a month to the Mission. His full-time job is with the Fulton County Lexington ARC, where he works with traumatic brain-injured adults in the Latham satellite office.
Volunteers also come as young as high school elementary school students.
“Once a month, twenty-five teenagers from the Greenville High School serve meals and clean rooms and clothing,” said Jones. The elementary students decorate place mats, draw holiday cards for Mission residents and complete special projects.
When asked about how the Mission programs are financed, Jones is very assertive.
“We receive no government funding from city, county, state, federal,” he said, contending that funds from that source come with strings attached. “I want no encumbrances. When government monies are lacking, we must raise it ourselves.”
Based on a CPA audit in 2003, the Mission raised $1.7 million—all from private donations. That figure includes $300,000 valued in donated clothes, food and professional hours. The latter means conversion of professional donated hours into dollars.
For added emphasis on how each donated dollar is spent, Jones explained that $.80 cents goes for programs, $.10 cents for administration and $.10 cents for fundraising. Compared to other non-profits, he said, this organization is very cost-effective and “derives a lot of bang for the buck.”
Guided by spiritual values, the present Capital City Rescue Mission is visible evidence of a successful enduring vision begun in the late 1940s and fostered by the dedicated efforts of its former directors. The Rev. Perry Jones, his staff and volunteers continue to foster the work of healing the needy and helpless, serving a crucial function in the city of Albany.
Dick Buyer is a retired teacher and freelance writer. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.