I know you’ve seen this face on local Los Angeles TV. It’s Rev. Andy Bales, who has been the Director (CEO) of Union Rescue Mission since 2005. Every time there’s a news story regarding homelessness, he seems to be the go-to expert reporters seek out for comment. His answers are right on, forceful and persuasive. That’s because he lives it every day, leading the Mission’s many service programs, interacting with actual people on the street, many of whom he knows by name. He gets around in a wheelchair because one of his legs had to be amputated as the result of an infection he contracted from close contact with someone he was trying to help.*

Andy Bales is a friend. He came to Pasadena in 2000 to serve as Community Outreach Pastor at Lake Avenue Church. He helped our community’s needy and marginal people for the next five years, and we worked together on Pasadena-area projects for the poor and struggling, including Door of Hope, Friends In Deed and the Bad Weather Shelter. He and his family still live in Pasadena. When Andy was called to lead Union Rescue Mission, those of us who had partnered with him here knew it was a perfect fit.

At ABC, we had already had a long history with Union Rescue Mission. Rev. Clinton Goodwin had been a founding member of Altadena Baptist Church in 1934. A year later, he was ordained as a clergyman and he began his ministry as a staff leader at Union Rescue Mission, emerging as the Superintendent of the Mission until his retirement in 1962.** By the time I came as Pastor in 1972, the tradition of supporting Union Rescue Mission was part of the church’s DNA. Norm Rhinehart was dedicated to continuing the monthly tradition of taking a group of ABCers to lead the worship service at the Mission, and I was often part of the team, along with Orlan Paulson, Ed Stankey and other faithful volunteers.

Today, things are different. We don’t have to go to LA to minister to homeless people. We don’t even have to go to downtown Pasadena. We just have to open our eyes in our own neighborhood. There are some regulars who drop into ABC to talk with Pastor Connie and me about the network of homeless people they’re part of, who somehow make a “home” on the streets in the few square blocks around the church. They have their own friendships, mutual aid agreements, grudges and dramas. It’s like a separate society that exists right under our noses.

I talked about this with former ABCer Ed Reitz, who, in his retirement, lives in Hemet. That’s where a lot of people go to escape the harsh pressures of urban life. He said he’s starting to do volunteer work at the Hemet homeless shelter. The fact that even this idyllic place where people go to “get away from it all” has a problem with homelessness is a reminder that in the America of 2023, homelessness is not their problem; it’s our problem, each one of us.

It seems to me that one of the greatest challenge ABC will have to face in the next decade will be: What are we, as the Body of Christ in Altadena, going to do about the unhoused people who make our neighborhood their “home”?