Los Angeles

Once Homeless, Reverend Keeps Hope Alive on Skid Row

Rev. Andy Bales has been managing Los Angeles' Union Rescue Mission since 1994.

Rev. Andy Bales navigates Los Angeles' Skid Row like a second home, doing the work he was destined to do.

He's been managing the Union Rescue Mission since 1994. The private Christian shelter is one of the largest homeless shelters in the country.

"I always say 'people experiencing homelessness.' I never say 'homeless,'" he said.

He calls them "precious souls."

Union Rescue Mission is the only one in Los Angeles that houses single men, women and parents with children, he said. And with skyrocketing rent, domestic abuse and alcohol and drug addiction, the number of people who are homeless in the county is growing at an alarming rate.

"We have as many families with children right now as we did during the worst parts of the Great Recession," he said.

Women and children at the shelter now outnumber men by more than 200.

"We haven't seen anything like what we are going to see in the years to come if we don't intervene in the lives of these kids," Bales said.

Bales said the homeless need immediate, comprehensive care 24/7, such as medical, legal and recovery. These services are available at Union Rescue Mission, but they're needed at a much larger scale.

"Homelessness destroys people psychologically, physically and educationally," he said.

Bales himself has been forever affected. Two years ago he had a wound that wouldn't heal.

"I contracted flesh eating E. coli, strep and staph from the streets of Skid Row," he said.

His left leg is now amputated from the shin down.

But he considers it an asset.

"It's made me more effective. It's kind of my secret weapon," he said.

For Bales, the work is both depressing and uplifting, but the people who make it off Skid Row keep him going.

"I get to see walking miracles of people who were once stuck on the streets addicted, hurting...and now they have become new," he said.

Bales has helped thousands of people on streets of Skid Row, but he does not consider himself a hero.

"I don't feel like a hero," he said. "I feel like I'm the receiver of too much love. Too much accolades."

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