My career in designing Rescue Missions began in 1984 when I was hired to design the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, the only organization between Oxnard and Santa Maria that provides hot meals and overnight accommodations seven days a week, 365 days per year. Back then, the Mission had just 17 overnight beds.
I'd never done anything quite like it so I visited other facilities to understand the unique needs of a homeless shelter, feeding program, and recovery program. The new rescue mission was built with 100 overnight beds, plus 40 recovery beds for adults and 40 for women and children. It now provides over 75,000 meals and 35,000 overnight stays for the homeless of Santa Barbara County.
Building on Success
I next designed Bethel House, a facility specifically for women, next to the Rescue Mission. Rather than treating it just as a job, I took a vested interest in the Rescue Mission and joined the board of directors. Ten years later I became chairman of the board.
I quickly realized that the business side of the ministry was not being attended to so wrote a job description for an executive director/business administrator. Soon, I felt God’s calling to fill the position myself on a temporary basis. It took a year longer than the six months I expected to find a replacement.
The Homeless Architect
I left and I thought, "I know how to design one. I know how to run one. God gave me something no one else has.
In 1995 I went to a convention for the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions and put up a display with a title "The Homeless Architect". The moniker stuck and word got out about my expertise and the phone began to ring. Since then, I design an average of three to five Rescue Missions per year
Every rescue mission is an independent work of Christian faith. The ultimate goal is to take people from homeless to independent. Focusing on the addition of learning centers has been a key to this process. For 80%, the cycle for homelessness starts with dropping out of school by the eighth grade. We don’t see them for ten years until they’re desperate enough to come back. They start using drugs and alcohol to hide the shame and the pain.
We bring them in and try to help them move their education forward. We put them in a recovery program and they learn social skills, work skills and all the things it takes to be functioning in today’s society.
Adapting the design of each facility around the special needs of its individuals is one of my most valuable contributions. The important part to me is the rescue mission should be one of the nicest buildings in town. For someone starting in a recovery program, it needs to be a place that feels like home. It needs to be conducive to healing.
I always recommend as much green landscaping as possible even in frigid climates. I am adamant that the exterior is as important as the interior. It needs to be super clean. Some place anybody would walk into. When designing the learning centers, I go out of my way to ensure that they bear little resemblance to school rooms which people can associate with previous failures.
God's Master Plan
I believe that God directed me to design the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. When I became the executive director, it was an opportunity for me to understand more about that ministry. It was all orchestrated so I could help the ministries nationwide. I know all of this was part of God’s plan for my life.