Seattle's Pioneer Square is home to many who do not have a home of their own. Helping to break the cycle of homelessness, the Bread of Life Mission is a source of food, shelter, and much more.
“The Mission with a Heart,” promises a sign over the entryway at the Bread of Life Mission in Seattle. The door opens and closes to a constant stream of men and women pouring in from the cloudy morning. Here, they've found a place to enjoy what most Seattleites take for granted: warmth, a cup of hot coffee, and a safe place to sleep.
Nestled in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, the Bread of Life provides homeless men in Seattle with basic amenities and services over a base of Christian ethics. Their core values, as testified on their website, are to “restore dignity and hope, share the Gospel, and encourage and respect all who come to the Mission.”
“Everybody deserves a chance. The bottom line is, we don’t want to see anyone homeless or addicted. We want to see you get healthy."
During the daytime, the Mission’s doors are open to all—not exclusively men—allowing them to take refuge from the cold and enjoy hot beverages and pastries. An average of 300 homeless individuals use the Mission’s services daily, including their media center, mail access, men and women’s clothing donations, and social services.
One of the most dynamic services offered by the Bread of Life Mission is LifeChange, an 8-month addiction recovery program. Free of charge to all disenfranchised men, the program provides housing, daily group counseling, and Biblical teaching utilizing materials from the Christian-based Genesis Process.
“These men have found hope in Christ,” explains the Mission’s Executive Director, WIllie Parish, Jr. “They’ve tried in the bottle, tried in narcotics. With Christ, their life takes on meaning.”
It was towards the end of the Great Depression that Bread of Life was first established in downtown Seattle, early 1939. Since its original opening, the Mission has had a rich history of community involvement and innovative programs. Their Heroes Catering/Box Lunch transitional program is a vital example, providing job skills training to homeless men and women who are making the difficult transition into the professional arena.
Like many homeless shelters in the area, the Bread of Life is Christian-based, but they strive to provide assistance to all who need it. The Mission maintains connections with several other homeless shelters and facilities in the neighborhood, including Real Change and the Union Gospel Mission (both of which are located within a block of the Bread of Life). If a guest is not comfortable with the Christian values of the Mission or is in need of assistance that extends beyond the organization’s abilities, they will be referred to another facility that can provide help.
“Everybody deserves a chance,” Parish believes. “The bottom line is, we don’t want to see anyone homeless or addicted. We want to see you get healthy. We’re not going to turn our heads—that’s not the Christian way.”
Parish’s work is with those whom society seems to have denied that chance. People who have lost hope, family, and home. He recalls a time of clarity when he was leaving Bread of Life for the day and spotted a man crouched under an awning, sheltering himself from the rain.
“‘Why don’t you come into the Mission?’ I asked him. He said, ‘No, no, I’m fine out here.’ I was amazed—the Mission was right there. So I brought him some blankets from my car. He was so used to being out there, so comfortable, that he wouldn’t accept any other assistance. He would rather be out in the cold, because that’s what he was used to.”
With an offering of 82 beds, 28 sleeping mats in their chapel (courtesy of the Mission's connection with Operation NightWatch), hot meals, showers, and nightly gospel services, the Bread of Life has everything homeless men need to rest comfortably. Yet night after night, there are men sleeping on the street just blocks from the Mission door.
“Many people don’t seek the help they need because they don’t want to be a burden,” Parish explains.
For those who do choose to seek assistance—a choice that requires both courage and humility—the Bread of Life can be life changing. A shining model of the Mission’s success can be found right at their front desk. Bernard, their animated, friendly front desk greeter, first walked through the Mission doors as a homeless alcoholic. With the help of the Bread of Life’s counseling and spiritual services, he now has a job and a bright future.
That’s the mission of the Mission: to supply not just basic amenities for comfort and survival, but also the vital tools necessary for individuals to transcend the cycle of homelessness. Their humble neon sign beckons the addicted and the needy of Pioneer Square to accept assistance and to take advantage of their services, because they know that the cycles of homelessness and addiction are impossible to break single-handedly.
“The Bible tells us to love people,” Parish says. “We accept people. We try to help them. That’s how we operate here.”
The Bread of Life Mission is always accepting donations of men and women’s clothing, shoes, undergarments, and monetary support for their programs. They also strongly encourage those who are interested to volunteer their time by serving meals, helping with admin work, sorting clothes, and even sharing songs and stories with their guests. To volunteer, fill out the form on their website.
Photos © Adrienne Hurst, 2013 Splash photo
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