Local shelter works to help people get back on track

Published 10:00 am Monday, August 8, 2016

People in need in the Southeast Texas area have had a safe haven to call their own since 1984, when the Port Cities Rescue Mission Ministries was first established in Port Arthur. However, in recent years, the Mission has come under danger of closing due to a severe lack of funding and local support.

Port Cities Rescue Mission Ministries (PCRMM) is an interfaith ministry that serves the homeless, poor, and disenfranchised of the Greater Golden Triangle area. As a Christian organization, it aims to offer aid and support to anyone in need, but the money and means to do so has not always been there.

“We would like to take in everyone,” Kenneth Hill, executive director of the PCRMM, said. “But we have to take responsibility of already depleted resources — and they get upset with us when we can’t assume all of the responsibilities.”

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Hill referred to various organizations like hospitals and churches that send them individuals in need, but who all too rarely send them the means to help them in turn.

“We’re the only shelter in the area. No one’s stepping up,” Hill said. “They want to send us people, but they don’t help us help them. We can house 300 people if we want to, but where does the money come from?”

The Mission serves a “big area,” one that includes the Jefferson, Orange, and Hardin Counties. It provides food, shelter, case management, and recovery programs to men, women, children, families, and those with disabilities.

And, while the Mission has struggled with inadequate funding, it has still achieved many of its statement goals in helping people live more rewarding, productive lives.

Earl Benjamin, 52, has lived with and benefitted from the Mission since September of 2004. He is originally from Beaux Bridge, Louisiana.

“I was searching for a place to get off alcohol and drugs,” Benjamin said. “The Mission was able to help.”

Benjamin underwent various phases of treatment while at the PCRMM, including a one-year phase that treated systemic alcohol and drug abuse. However, the mission workers helping him were more than willing to accommodate for his extended needs.

“After one year, I felt I needed a little more time, and they let me stay,” Benjamin said, specifying an additional four months of rehabilitation that allowed him to feel ready to face the world. “They took care of all my needs.”

Benjamin was clear in his belief that “this Mission saved my life.” He reiterated more than once that the PCRMM gave his life meaning, value, and structure over the nearly 12 years that he has been a part of its family.

“I’d probably be dead or still caught somewhere aimless on the streets if it hadn’t been for [the Mission],” Benjamin said.

Benjamin walked to the Rescue Mission all the way from Louisiana on his birthday, on the day that he finally realized that he needed help.

“I didn’t think I needed none at first; but, then I started going to treatment and going to counseling, and the fog lifted and I realized that it was not a way a human being should live.

“I started taking their suggestions, hearing their stories, and it turned on a light bulb.”

Benjamin turned his life around with the Mission’s help, putting his problems behind him and reconnecting with family.

“I go see my grand baby,” Benjamin said in response to what he does in his free time. “I ride down to Louisiana to see her. I stay busy and see my family. God has put us back together.”

Reflecting the amount of care he has for her, Benjamin can recount his granddaughter’s age to the month — “Four years and five months.”

The Rescue Mission Ministries has seen people like Benjamin through their darkest times and has — through luck, perseverance, and the power of faith — helped see them through to a better path.

“I have lots of friends here,” Benjamin said of the Mission. “It’s like home for me, a whole new story (for me).”

And his advice for those individuals who are in similar straits as him: “I would say if they think they have a problem, their best plan would be to come to the Rescue Mission Ministries and, if they’re honest with themselves, they can get help.”

Benjamin cited Mr. Hill as one of the primary reasons for why he was able to beat his problems and find successful employment. “[Mr. Hill] is always positive with me. He offered help when I didn’t even know that I needed help.”

Felton Johnson is a 10-year participant of the PCRMM and attributes much of his success to Kenneth Hill and the Mission.

“Mr. Hill doesn’t give up on me,” the 29-year-old California native said. “Mr. Hill got me my first place, my first car, my first job… four jobs, really.”

Johnson has had issues with antisocial tendencies in the past, which in turn has made it difficult for him to hold certain jobs. But despite a seemingly uphill battle, Hill and others at the Mission never gave up on him — provided he always put forth the effort to change.

“I’d probably be dead if not for the Mission,” Johnson said. “They helped me a lot — Mr. Earl especially… I used to be so mean, so disrespectful, but he [Earl Benjamin] never gave up on me.”

Johnson recalled how Benjamin eventually got through to him on the night of a hurricane and how “he stood up to me and said that I was going to respect him from now on.”

Since then, Johnson said that he’s gotten better at meeting with people, though he still preferred his quiet time. “I come here after work [at the Mission] to unwind. I work alone most of the time [at my current job], so I don’t mind.”

“I owe these people a lot,” Johnson said about the workers and volunteers.

In giving advice to others who might find themselves in need, Johnson’s counsel was: “Find someone who doesn’t give up on you. You have to try. If someone gives you advice, you have to at least try to follow it.”

For those familiar with Hill’s temperance and methods — a practice where 50 percent of a resident’s income automatically goes into savings for them and where Hill runs a strict “three strikes and you’re out” policy — sometimes that advice can be difficult to follow, but something that he hopes is fair.

“I may be tough, but I have a heart for people,” Hill said. “When I was first given this position, I told them that I’m not a politician. I have no diplomacy. But I have a heart for people.”

Kurt Washington, pastor for Mount Calvary Baptist Church and longtime worker with the Mission, would seem to agree.

“There are people who are looking for a free ride, but Mr. Hill weeds them out.”

Washington detailed that while the methods may sometimes seem harsh, it is for the greater good.

“Most people don’t have a structured life. [The Mission] helps with that. They don’t just feed you — if you don’t have a GED, they help you get one.”

The degree to which the PCRMM works to address the underlying causes of homelessness would appear to be singular among its peers. Everything from personal behavior to social support is addressed at the Rescue Mission.

“Here we try to rebuild your life,” Washington said.

“We’re sanctuary,” Hill said plainly. “You can go from off the streets to permanent housing without ever leaving this block if you’re willing to change your life and do the work.

“Our focus is the same: provide people with the opportunity to change their lives.”