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Skid Row's Union Rescue Mission Now Charges $7 A Night: Will This Make the Homeless More Self-Sufficient?

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Will charging a few bucks to spend the night at one of Los Angeles' most well-known Skid Row shelters make the local homeless more self-sufficient? Will more shelters around the nation shift to the pay-to-stay model? These are the questions being posed right now as Downtown's Union Rescue Mission enters their third month of having a $7-per-night rate, and cutting back to just one free meal offered daily.

The shift to a pay-to-stay model "was driven by budget woes caused by the pinch of plummeting funding and soaring demand," explains the Associated Press, adding "Andy Bales, the mission's chief executive, said he had been trying to institute fees for several years under a philosophy that homeless people should learn self-sufficiency."

Bales calls this new plan one of "sustainability and effectiveness," according to his blog. In explaining the reasoning behind the implementation of a new fee program, he says the mission has "tripled the number of families, doubled the number of people housed, and doubled the number of meals served since October 2008 when the recession hit all of us hard. That kind of pressing need, coupled with our donors struggling, and lower giving, is a disastrous combination, and cannot be sustained."

Now the 300 beds are called "Gateway Program beds," meaning they are not simply a place to crash, but part of a larger process of bettering one's life, because using the bed comes with "an expectation of sobriety, attendance at a limited number of classes including Celebrate Recovery, an ability to rest in the bed at any time, [and] a locked foot locker," for a $7 daily fee. Of that $7, $2 is held in a personal savings plan for the participant. The first five days are free, giving the individual the option to enroll in the Gateway program, or one of the Mission's other free long-term recovery programs.

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The reaction to the new program has been mixed within L.A.'s Skid Row population, with some scoffing they should rename the facility the "Union Hotel," as well as concerns about those who are being turned away.

However, Bales believes that "Gateway Program" participants have the opportunity to feel better about themselves because they are not merely accepting a handout.

Other shelters around Los Angeles and the county are mulling making a similar pay-to-stay change in the face of soaring operational costs and a desire to try something that could be more effective in eradicating homelessness in the long-term.