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Union Gospel Mission's new center focuses on hearts of women

By Deidre Jacobson

By focusing on the hearts of women dealing with pain, homelessness, domestic violence, past imprisonment and mental illness, Union Gospel Mission’s Crisis Shelter for Women and Children helps women change their lives, said its director Rich Schaus.

Most women they deal with have never known the stability of a loving relationship.  So shelter staff are to love them “no matter what they do,” he said.

Staff seek to provide the women with warmth and safety. 

Rich Schaus
Rich Schaus

Until the shelter’s doors opened in January 2007, Union Gospel Mission’s Anna Ogden Hall provided crisis housing for women and children. It comprised two components: 1) rescue for those in crisis and 2) a life transformation program for women ready to make changes.

Staff observed the problems caused by this mix.  Women in the program were sometimes pulled back to their old lives by friends who came to the shelter but were not ready for change. 

In 2005, they decided to focus on those who wanted to change, eliminating the rescue facility and providing the program component only.  As Anna Ogden Hall turned people away, their waiting list grew from 15 to more than 60 names. 

In early 2006, Union Gospel Mission (UGM) staff initiated a prayer campaign, asking God to provide resources for emergency housing for women and children in crisis. 

UGM began a fund-raising campaign for crisis housing and, in October of 2006, Phil Altmeyer, UGM director, began searching for property.

Touring the old Budget Saver Motel, known for prostitution, violence, drug use and alcohol abuse, he saw a billboard going up for the UGM and believed that was a sign from God. 

The board agreed to use foundation funds to buy the property. 

Rich, then assistant director of Ogden Hall, became director of the new shelter.  They began deep cleaning the rooms and turned the rundown motel into the shelter for women and children.

“January 15, 2007, was an exciting day.  On the first night, one woman went into labor.  Ambulances or police were there for one reason or another the first three nights,” said Rich. 

The staff began the process of learning to face unusual dilemmas, such as men dressed as women trying to check into the shelter.  Not wanting to offend anyone, they began telling potential guests: “If you have any male anatomy, you can’t stay here.”

Rich, who grew up Roman Catholic in the St. Louis area, had left the church, dropped out of college and had given in to drugs and alcohol.  Ready to change his life, he moved home with his parents, began attending church with his girlfriend and eventually sought God’s direction for his life.

Feeling God wanted him to be a missionary, he returned to college at Central Bible College planning to be a medical missionary.  He married, joined the Army Reserve, served in Europe and returned to Moses Lake to care for his wife’s grandparents.  His job search led him to Spokane and an ad for a director at Ogden Hall.

Rich believes God had a plan for him to be in ministry to homeless women and children.

In March 2002, he became a resident service manager at Ogden Hall and served as pastor to New Hope Center in Ritzville before deciding to focus on homeless women and children.  

During 2007, the Union Gospel Mission Crisis Shelter for Women and Children served 1,073 women and children, for a total of 14,587 bed nights. 

Rich said he has witnessed miracles in the lives of the women the shelter serves. 

“One young woman had come and left six times.  She was asked to leave because of relapse or violence, but each time, she changed a little, and was finally able to make the decision to enter the rehabilitative program at Anna Ogden Hall,” he said.

“She was frightened and relapsed prior to entry, ending up near death on the sidewalk down the street from the shelter.  After a passerby called for help for her, she woke up in the hospital.  Four days later she was in the program at Ogden Hall.

“The community is wealthy in services for women and children,” said Rich. “Shelter residents are referred to the Salvation Army, Isabella House, Miryam’s House, St Margaret’s and Transitional Living Center. 

“We’ve just started a partnership with the Interfaith Hospitality Network to provide case management for some of the families.  Spokane Mental Health’s Homeless Outreach Team and staff from the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program visit the shelter regularly to help the women access services in the community,” he said.

Shelter staff provide crisis housing for anyone, he added.  Mentally ill women are welcome if they are not dangerous. 

Those who are asked to leave for any reason can return after one day.  A few with serious issues must meet and contract with staff before returning. 

“We never say never to anyone,” said Rich.  “We have a passion for Mother Teresa’s model of love for the least among us.”

He predicts an increase in need among more families and more mentally ill homeless.  He also sees need for a similar shelter for men with children.

The shelter needs volunteers to provide services such as bus driving, decorations, cleaning rooms and just relating with the women and children.

“Homelessness is a community issue,” Rich said.  “It takes the whole community to make changes.”

For information, call 535-0486.