Partnership could help men’s shelter re-open

Even with warmer spring weather on the horizon, Altoona Rescue Mission’s closure during winter’s coldest weeks has left a void in shelter services to men in need.

All of that could change soon.

Business Manager Clair Chappell said the mission, a men-only shelter, helped 100 to 200 men per year before it closed in October, and he hopes that a partnership with Reliance Bank will help the shelter not only reopen, but expand.

Chappell said he met with Reliance Bank representatives in mid-January, who agreed to match up to $25,000 in donations to get the mission at 815 Lexington Ave. up and running again.

Reliance Bank Vice President Chris Kirwin said the mission is a longtime bank customer and some employees’ family members are associated with the group. But there also are moral reasons that compelled them to act.

“As a bank being mutually rooted with the community, Reliance Bank has always felt its responsibility to help local agencies address particularly difficult circumstances, like the one facing the Rescue Mission,” he said.

Kent Fluke, Mission board treasurer, said the board made the decision to close the shelter based on dwindling finances and the retirement of its superintendent, Richard McLaughlin, when no one else stepped up to run the shelter.

Since its closing, the mission has received more than $5,000 in donations, the amount needed to run the shelter for one month, but have other debts left to pay, including a $24,500 mortgage on the shelter’s property and $9,400 from a line of credit.

The mission had been in trouble for some time; according to Guidestar, the mission reported total revenue in 2011 of $76,165, including thrift store profits, with expenses totaling $86,895.

Blair County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Joe Hurd told the Mirror in December that people should care about the mission’s success because lending a helping hand shows compassion for those who are “struggling to put their lives back together.”

The only other shelter in Blair County that does not address the needs of a certain niche, like the Salvation Army’s drug and rehabilitation program or Family Services Inc.’s teenager and domestic-violence shelters, is Family Services’ emergency shelter.

Family Services Team Leader Bryan Lytle said reopening the Rescue Mission would take pressure off the Family Services shelter, which helped 44 men, 53 women and 20 children between July and Jan. 1.

He said he’s had to turn away 284 people in that six-month period, since the facility can house only 16 people.

“We’re usually full, almost every night,” Lytle said.

Lytle said he turned away 23 men in both December and January.

“I’ve turned away a lot of individuals,” Lytle said.

The Rescue Mission has one asset – McLaughlin’s house, which is listed at $29,900. Once the house sells, donations are collected and the bank provides its matching funds, the mission will “be in good financial order,” Chappell said, and could reopen as soon as next month.

Kirwin said the bank wanted to do more than just help the mission reopen, and that’s why they settled on the $25,000 figure.

“We also wanted to help with capital improvements to the Rescue Mission building and their thrift store,” he said.

Chappell said along with the board looking for somebody to run the mission, it is also looking at possibly remodeling the shelter to add a dining room in the basement or expand the director’s living quarters.

He said it also may expand its reach to more than a men’s shelter.

“In today’s world, we must not forget about women, children and families,” he said. “I certainly believe that somewhere up the road we need to move forward and make that opportunity.”

Chartered in 1874, the Rescue Mission has served the community for nearly 140 years and Chappell is looking forward to being able to work there again.

“Our main goal is to provide the community a service,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.