Chattanooga: Mission urgently seeking a home

Chattanooga: Mission urgently seeking a home

June 10th, 2009 by Cliff Hightower and Pam Sohn in News

The director of the Union Gospel Mission made an anxious plea Tuesday for his soon-to-be homeless - again - shelter.

"If we are not able to secure a facility, we will be faced with the heartbreaking possibility of shutting down our services," said Jon Rector, the mission's executive director.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, said the city is working with other homeless missions should Union Gospel have to close and leave about 70 homeless men on the streets.

City officials met Monday with representatives of the Chattanooga Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army and Community Kitchen "in anticipation of the (Union Gospel) mission either moving or ceasing to exist," Mr. Beeland said. "It doesn't look like they're going to have a place to move to."

He said the mission has had a year to find a permanent home.

Union Gospel Mission houses 30 to 35 homeless men in its emergency shelter each night and another 30 to 35 homeless men who are in rehabilitation programs to help them return to work and get homes or apartments on their own.

The mayor has said he hoped the city-owned farmers market site on East 11th Street would be home to a facility for both the Union Gospel Mission and the Chattanooga Rescue Mission. The two groups could not reconcile their programs to merge, however, and now any city facilities at the former market would need renovation.

In 2007, Union Gospel's sponsoring church, Highland Park Baptist, sold the shelter's longtime building and property at Market and East Main streets to RiverCity Co. for $800,000.

After a rent-free year from RiverCity at the Main and Market location, Union Gospel found its first temporary home with the Salvation Army, then moved to a second temporary home in the former Senter School on Holtzclaw Avenue.

After six months there, however, the old school was sold to Chattanooga Rescue Mission, again forcing Union Gospel to seek temporary shelter space from the Salvation Army.

Now the Salvation Army wants to move forward with its plan to expand family shelter space into the area where Union Gospel has been housed, said Salvation Army spokeswoman Kimberly George.

"We need to move on our family housing," she said. "We've got families in various shelters around town, and we're even putting some in motels."