Union Gospel Mission: Opposing viewpoints, follow-up and photos

The cover story this week, in which I spent four days living on the streets in Sacramento, has garnered a bit of attention since publishing yesterday, so I’ll be doing a little follow-up on it as the week goes on.

To begin, I’d like to touch on the middle portion of the story, in which I spent the night at the Union Gospel Mission on Bannon Street.

I knew before I wrote this portion that it would be the story’s lightning rod, since I experienced a lot of things that your average person probably isn’t comfortable with during my stay. I could also tell, from the numerous men I spoke with who’d stayed at the Mission, that opinions on the place truly do cover the spectrum. Some guys are very thankful for the services offered by the UGM. Others swear that they’ll never go near it again.

One man who disagreed with my depiction of the Mission is Tom Armstrong, a well-known writer and homeless advocate who knows first-hand what it’s like to live on the streets in Sacramento. In addition to having personal experience with the Mission, Tom consistently goes against the grain with other homeless advocates in Sacramento. With that in mind, I was happy to see him post a different perspective in the comment section at the end of my story. Here’s what he said in regard to my description (please note that this is only the second half of Tom’s comment):

Reference to barbed wire and the Union Gospel Mission being like prison was way off-base in the article. The barbed wire was on a fence to the south of the mission, protecting construction of a road to a water plant that is being extended. There is no barbed wire on the fences of Union Gospel Mission. Nor is UGM like a prison. I have, myself, never been in one, but from what I have heard from fellows’ testimonies and have learned otherwise, prison and the mission are wholly dissimilar. Any homeless person or guy in The Program can exit the mission at any time he chooses. There are tight spaces and the mission is small and filled with folks every night, thus requiring that there be a tight schedule and an ordered routine. For most of the guys this is fine and understandable. There are some guys who get discombobulated at being led or (as they see it) controlled for a space of time and they become resistant to the mission’s charms. “To each, his own,” I guess.

I think it’s important for people to read this point of view, since my depiction of the experience probably more closely mirrors that of the men who did not enjoy their stays at the UGM. I’ve also been told that I’ll be hearing from a representative at the Mission some time soon. I look forward to meeting with him, if he’d like.

For now, I’d just like to post some photos I took while at the UGM, with no editorializing accompanying them. Please forgive the photo quality; The pictures were taken surreptitiously, and my phone is old:


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