If you live in, or anywhere near, Topeka you have probably heard about the financial struggles of the Topeka Rescue Mission over the last few months. TRM announced Aug. 5 it might have to close if more funds did not come in. At that time executive director Barry Feaker announced that giving amounts received by the mission had decreased a whopping 42% in 2019, and they had burned through nearly all their reserves.
Feaker revealed that day that TRM had experienced an average shortfall of about $180,000 a month since Jan. 1. Though typically in the past a few large donations have come in each year to make up the difference, this year they have not. Feaker decided he could not wait any longer and would have to make the appeal to the public.
At a recent news conference in late October, Feaker said Topekans responded generously over the ensuing weeks, but now, TRM is still being forced to cut costs to the point where its projected budget for next year will be 31 percent less than its budget for this year.
TRM is taking steps that include eliminating jobs and programs in order to be in a “healthier” position going into 2020, Feaker said. The Rescue Mission is based at 600 N. Kansas Ave.
What people need to keep in mind is that the Rescue Mission, like many organizations and businesses, is never more than a few months away from closing, if money should stop coming in, for whatever reason.
Of the current financial struggles of TRM, Feaker said, “We could look at this as a failure. We don’t. We look at this as an adjustment.” The programs have been successful, but can no longer be fully funded at this time, he said.
Like any operation, when income decreases, adjustments have to be made. Some services have to be discontinued. People get laid off.
TRM had 112 employees at the beginning of the year, and that figure has been reduced by 28 percent.
At least one employee whose job was discontinued responded by becoming a volunteer for TRM.
“For some people, this is not just a job,” Feaker said. “This is a mission.”
The word “Mission” in the organization’s title does not refer to just a building to house the homeless; it refers to the “mission” of caring for people in many ways. The mission includes sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, healing the broken, restoring hope and many more supportive services.
But all those services take people, and they take money to get the job done.
As the money dries up, services that TRM will no longer be able to provide include:
- Two retail stores; a thrift store in North Topeka and the Boutique on the Boulevard, an upscale resale store in south Topeka. Both have already closed.
- The “Restore Hope” program, which combats human trafficking and aids victims. Talks are under way to see if that program could continue to exist through other organizations, Feaker said.
- The Children’s Palace, an 18,000-square-foot facility that provided care for preschool children. Many were children of parents who came from the Rescue Mission but now have jobs; however, they were not yet able to provide or afford childcare. Others were abused children that could not be sent to other child care facilities, or who were suffering from mental illness or other difficulties.
TRM is attempting to find financing or another organization to arrange for the Children’s Palace to resume operating, Feaker said. The Children’s Palace was based on the philosophy that all children are royalty in God’s eyes. The facility provided programs and care for homeless children staying at the mission while their parents were at work or in education programs.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
While many have suggested that TRM should focus on financing only its “core” missions, it is difficult to define what a core mission is, or how to separate it from other contributing factors.
During the press conference Feaker referred to a cartoon in which “Uncle Sam” tells a man bearing the label “CITIES,” “If only the homeless problem was about only being homeless.”
The cartoon shows a group of tents, with labels saying “MENTAL ILLNESS,” “PTSD,” “DOMESTIC VIOLENCE,” “INCOME INEQUALITY,” “STUDENT DEBT,” “ASSISTANCE CUT,” “DRUG ADDICTION,” “ALCOHOLISM” and “LGBTQ FAMILY REJECTION.”
Many of the programs that TRM has been involved in – and in fact pioneered – tried to deal with the root causes of homelessness. Otherwise, Feaker said, we just keep “building more shelters and building more jails.”
It seemed that TRM had “tentacles” reaching all over Topeka and into various neighborhoods, programs and organizations. And it seemed to be working. Feaker described how the mission had at one time housed over 300 people. The average number had gone down under 200 in recent months. Progress was also being made in other areas, such as the HiCrest neighborhood, which has had quite a transformation.
Now, due to the decrease in donations, these “extracurricular” programs had to be cut back.
The question is, who will pick up the slack? Who will help the homeless, the mentally ill, the human trafficking victims, the addicts, the abused children and other troubled souls?
If not TRM, then who?
Will it end up being some government program, paid for by increased taxes? We all know how well those work.
Or will we just build more shelters and more jails?
These problems have to be dealt with somehow, by someone. And it all costs money.
Feaker pointed out that it can cost about $100 per day to keep someone in jail, and if they have mental illness, the cost goes up to $300 per day.
So, as a community, do we want to continue to go “upstream,” and try to address the causes, or pull back and limit our involvement to putting Band-aids on “core” missions?
It’s like the guy in the old commercial said, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.”
To learn more about TRM’s programs, or to make a donation, visit www.trmonline.org.
–Lee Hartman | Metro Voice