Men’s shelter opens again

The Altoona Rescue Mission at 815 Lexington Ave. in the past decade survived a devastating fire, rebuilt and then shuttered its new facility due to financial problems.

But in the past week, it has reopened with a new director and a plan for the future.

The fire occurred Nov. 26, 2004. The rebuilt mission then had to close in 2012 because of a lack of financial resources.

After much effort and planning, those problems are hopefully in the past, said Jared Bowling, 29, the new director.

Bowling said Thursday two men have moved into the facility this week, Jack from York, who is helping him with the office work, and Craig from Altoona, who told Bowling, “I’m here because I need this program.”

The mission’s program is faith-based, but Bowling said its purpose is to get the men who live there back on their feet and into a job.

His goal, he said, is to encourage those who are successful in their rehabilitation to work at the mission and its thrift shop at 2809 Seventh Ave., as volunteers.

“We need volunteer help,” Bowling said.

The Rescue Mission also provides meals and a place to sleep for transients.

Bowling, a California native, has been working since March to reopen the facility that has its roots deep in the history of Altoona.

It opened in 1927 as a place where people who ended up in the city by traveling the railroad could get a bed and some food.

While Bowling is from the San Diego area, he enjoys going through a scrapbook of fragile Altoona Mirror clippings depicting the history of the facility from its earliest days.

“Its history is part of our city,” said Bowling, who is intrigued by the fact that 87 years later, the mission is still taking in people who need help and who want to rebuild their lives.

He believes there is a need for the mission, basing his opinion on observations over the past couple of months.

While he has been laying the ground for a successful reopening by contacting churches, human service agencies and many other organizations, at least 16 people have come to the mission’s door seeking a place to stay.

Bowling is hoping to provide beds for homeless veterans – he has met with representatives of the Van Zandt VA Medical Center – and to provide a place for paroled inmates from the Blair County Prison who have no other housing options. He has met with the prison’s treatment supervisor, Abbie L. Tate.

Inmates cannot be released on parole from the prison without having a place to live, and the lack of a home plan delays the release of many inmates.

Clair Chappell, a retired PennDOT supervisor, has been a major force in hiring Bowling and in helping him through the tough first few months of the mission’s resurgence.

“It’s good to be open. We’ve been out of it for 20 months,” he said last week.

Chappell said he has spent a great deal of time at the thrift shop, which will provide operating funds for the mission.

All of that money will all go to the mission, he said, emphasizing that those who work there are volunteers.

The thrift shop takes donations of clothes, shoes and other necessary items.

The shop also has a warehouse where items are bundled for shipment to third-world countries.

“You give us your clothes and shoes, and we’ll give them back. That part is needed in the community,” Chappell said.

Opening the mission is a step-by-step process, but, “in a month or so we hope to be in full swing,” he said.

The process has been led by Bowling, who has been able to get commitments from area stores and churches to provide food.

The food is important because the mission provides breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Bowling said contact with businesses is also important because of the mission’s goal to find jobs for its clients.

“We want our guys to have jobs when they graduate,” he stressed.

The mission can handle up to 15 people at one time.

He said the mission is equipped to provide living space for the handicapped.

Bowling said he plans to work with other agencies. For instance, Blair County Drug and Alcohol Inc. may provide a detox program for someone. That person could then go to the mission to maintain his health, prepare a job resume and be ready to re-enter the community “clean and sober.”

The director has also met with state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr. and state Rep. John McGinnis, both representing Altoona.

Bowling’s emphasis right now is to connect with the community.

“With the community behind us, the possibilities are endless. Without the community behind us, it’s going to make it difficult to operate,” Bowling said.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.