Lexington Rescue Mission is a Lex End Homelessness (LEH) Continuum of Care partner and has been serving the local Lexington community since 2001. As they put it, “Lexington Rescue Mission has worked to rebuild lives that have been broken by poverty. Poverty steals peace. It crushes dignity. It destroys hope. So in all that we do, we invite people into the presence of Jesus Christ.” As part of this mission, they help meet basic needs by offering laundry services, community meals, and employment support. They also coordinate a street outreach program, a homelessness intervention program, several transitional housing programs, ex-offender programming, and more.
We got to sit down with director Laura Carr in their new offices and eventual outreach center space recently and have a conversation about all the work that the Mission does. Laura tells us about how she unintentionally got into this line of work, the ways that work has shifted over the past few years, and Lexington Rescue Mission’s plans to expand. Our conversation is below.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself—personal, professional, or anything else you’d like to share about who you are.
A: I didn’t intend to go into this line of work, but my parents started Lexington Rescue Mission in 2001, and I came down in 2004 to help out for a year as part of AmeriCorps. All of a sudden I was the first person that folks saw when they came in off the street. I had no background in this work, plus I was new to town, so I just had to learn quickly what all the resources were and how to navigate the social services. And through that, I really fell in love with the work of the ministry and working with clients.
At the time, we had one building and 14 guys living upstairs who were coming out of homelessness, and I got to know them all like brothers. I saw the challenges they faced and how overwhelming they were, and to see God do life transformation work in people. It was so amazing to see lives totally restored, these men reconciling with family and working, wanting to serve and give back to their community—it was life-changing.
I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be, it’s very life-giving work.
Q: How did you get involved with your current role and/or homelessness advocacy more broadly?
A: After my AmeriCorps year, there wasn't enough money to hire me, so I had to go. I was the first person fired from the Lexington Rescue Mission! I ended up going to work at the United Way and then at the Lexington Leadership Foundation.
In 2007 my Dad called me because the development director position at Lexington Rescue Mission was opening up, which was a lot of fundraising and storytelling work, and I loved that side of things so I ended up coming back.
In 2018, my Dad was planning to retire in 2020, and I guess at some point I had told him I never wanted his job. But I prayed through it and ended up going through the interview process with the board after all, who eventually named me as the person to succeed my Dad. I worked as chief operating officer for a year and a half, we replaced some key positions including my old one, and I got the experience I needed to transition into the director role.
But then Covid hit in March, and we sent everyone we could home to work offsite. It was a crazy time to take on the leadership role. That November, we had a fire at our outreach center that displaced us for 4 or 5 months, and we moved across the street temporarily and kept operations going. Through all of that, God has been really faithful, provided the donations we’ve needed, and allowed us to grow.
And of course, the needs have grown, too. We just have totally outgrown our space at the Mission. So recently, we bought a larger property that we can grow and expand into and we’re in the midst of a capital campaign right now to renovate it so we can serve more clients. We’re in the early stages of that work, so we’re hoping for a renovated space to be able to launch services by early 2024, but we’ll see.
Q: What does a typical day of work look like for you?
A: There is no typical day. And my role has changed a lot too. We just hired a chief operating officer, for example, who is taking on some of the things I have done until very recently.
A lot of my job is outward facing and working to help bring in partners, like meeting with a church wanting to engage in the ministry or a donor wanting to invest [in] what we’re doing. It’s also a lot of meeting and helping staff navigate challenges and problem-solving with them. Usually, people call me when it's bad news and it's problems that need to be solved.
We don’t just serve people who are homeless, we serve a lot of people just struggling to make ends meet. What we’ve seen is that prices for housing, groceries, and everything else have gone up so much that people are struggling to get by day to day, and there’s no cushion. They are at the brink of homelessness and living in crisis, and people in that situation for the first time need help figuring out where to go for help.
We’re also seeing more people who are unsheltered. Originally COVID-19 drove a lot of people out of the shelter system, and that drove a lot of people into unsheltered homelessness. There are just not enough solutions for people who need low-barrier shelter—there needs to be more emergency help for them.
Our street outreach team started a few years ago in response to that need that we saw. Street outreach does mobile case management and builds relationships of trust to help community members facing homelessness access resources and support. Where addiction is a primary issue, our team can help with getting people into treatment when they’re ready. Just this last year street outreach [helped] 45 folks [get] into long-term treatment. And we have transitional housing on the back end for folks coming out of recovery.
Q: Why is the work you do important? What is the value of the work you do?
For me as a Christian, this work is vitally important because every person is created in the image of God, including people who nobody wants to look at, people who are marginalized, who are vulnerable, [and] who aren’t welcome in other spaces. When Jesus was alive he placed primary importance on ministering to people who were hurting. When you share his love with people, it transforms people. And I know that's different from a lot of other agencies, but it's really what drives us. Our goal is to see how we can come alongside people and help them live to their full potential. In some cases, they may need some job training, or to address a medical issue that’s limiting them, for example. Any one of us could be in the situations our clients are in, and without people coming alongside to provide help in those moments, we’d be in the same situation.
Beyond the basic value and dignity of each person, our city will also flourish when the most vulnerable are flourishing. Our city struggles when people don’t have access to food and housing and to recovery. When people are hurting, the city is going to hurt. If you’re not resolving the underlying issues that keep people trapped in these cycles, you’re not going to see the city flourish. If we want our city to be a safe place, a healthy place, a place where people are flourishing, then we have to address these issues.
And we can’t do it from just the public policy perspective, we also have to address it from the heart. Each person is different, their problems are unique, and we have to see each person with all the skills and the challenges they bring to the table and address it one person at a time.
Q: What is one thing you wish Lexington community members knew about homelessness?
A: I think most people I talk to are surprised to know that most people in Lexington who are experiencing homelessness are homeless for the first time. There are a lot of people who end up in this situation who don’t know how to navigate or access resources.
When people think of chronic homelessness, they think of it being unsolvable. But there are a lot of little interventions that can take place that can help people stabilize and move out of homelessness. You’re not always just addressing deep-seated issues, sometimes you’re helping to fix the little things so that families can succeed.
A lot of people who are homeless aren't visible to the public. There’s a lot of people who are couch surfing or sleeping with friends who are not even included in [the] overall numbers. That’s a lot of people who are homeless who aren't even being seen as homeless. So through a lot of our programs, we are able to meet those gaps and those needs for people who might not qualify for other services.
When people think of the Mission, they think of somebody coming in and getting a meal, but while that’s sometimes where people start with the Mission, that’s not the majority of what we do. A lot of what we do is working with people individually and working on making sure people's needs are getting met through a variety of programs. We have great partners that also help with that. That's also why we are part of the Continuum of Care because we can’t do all these things on our own, nor should we—we’ve got great partners out there.
I want people to understand that we’re not just a soup kitchen, we’re really trying to get to the root of the issues, trying to break those cycles, and trying to help people move forward.
You can also contact one of our many partners, such as Lexington Rescue Mission, to ask about opportunities to get involved. As Laura says, “I always love it if people want to come in for a tour and hear more about what we do, and the info for that is on the website.” Visit the Lexington Rescue Mission’s Volunteer page to learn more about how to help, and their Donate page to find out more about ways to give.