Posted in the Ventura County Star – April 12, 2017
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A year ago, Keith Manson was convinced his life was headed in one direction: prison. The 35-year-old from Oak View was grappling with drug and alcohol addiction. He had alienated everyone who cared about him, lost custody of his two children and been expelled from college. In a last-ditch attempt to save himself from his own dysfunction, Manson turned to the Ventura County Rescue Mission, a shelter that runs a rehabilitation program for the poor, homeless and substance-addicted.
“It’s been amazing,” Manson said Monday, after speaking at an event to honor the Rescue Mission’s 45th anniversary. “A year ago I thought I’d be sitting in prison but instead, I’m healthy, happy, working, cooking and reuniting with my family and just excited about my future.”
For more than four decades, the Ventura County Rescue Mission has served as a lifeline to people like Manson: men — and more recently women — who are destitute and desperate, usually because of substance addiction, a job loss or both. The mission operates a 38-bed emergency shelter for homeless men, a 10-month recovery program for up to 75 men, a vocational training program for the unemployed and transitional housing. It also offers meals to the poor and elderly.
Through its affiliated Lighthouse for Women and Children shelter, the organization provides the same services to women.
The faith-based nonprofit first opened its doors in April of 1972 and was initially called the Oxnard Rescue Mission. A religious couple, Charles and Mary Pope, started the shelter a few years after launching the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. During its first year of operation, the Oxnard Rescue Mission served 661 meals and provided shelter to 200 people.
In the years that followed, the mission expanded and changed dramatically. In 1989, leaders changed the mission’s name to the Ventura County Rescue Mission to reflect its provision of services to people from throughout the county and beyond. Then, in July 1992, a fire burned the original building down. With the help of the community and donors, the mission was rebuilt, becoming the 20,000-square-foot complex it is today.
It wasn’t until 1998, six years after the fire, that the mission reopened its doors. That same year, the mission also opened the Lighthouse for Women and Children a few blocks away.
Today, the mission hails itself as the longest standing year-round shelter for the poor and homeless in Ventura County. In contrast to its early days, the Rescue Mission served more than 270,000 meals in 2016 and provided 74,000 nights of shelter to homeless men, according to Community Relations Coordinator Suzanne West.
Saltee, who joined the organization in 1979 as a volunteer, said the mission has thrived thanks to God and to community support. The mission relies on donations and foundation grants and does not receive federal funds, he said. All services are provided to recipients at no charge.
“We’re in awe of the way the community comes alongside us,” West added.
Soon-to-be program graduate Charles Rodriguez, 36, of Santa Maria, said he plans to repay the “life changing” assistance he’s received at the rescue mission by volunteering at another mission near his home. After a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse, he said he’s ready for a fresh start. At the Ventura County Rescue Mission he was assigned to coordinate volunteers. He said the position made him realize he has communication and people skills.
“I’m seeing my potential. The Rescue Mission allowed me to do that,” Rodriguez said. “They lift you up so much that you have the courage and the confidence to say, ‘You know, I can do something with my life.’”