By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
SALEM — Sensing both God’s guiding hand and a collective mood of expectation, Dan Clem couldn’t help but draw a comparison between a community gathering in West Salem on May 10 and a certain well-known incident documented in the biblical book of Acts.
“There’s 120 people here in an upper room!” quipped Clem, the executive director of the Union Gospel Mission in Salem.
While the setting for the New Testament gathering of believers at Pentecost was likely far different than the second-floor conference room at Roth’s West Salem market, the shared focus between that meeting and last month’s event was on impacting lives for Christ.
During the hourlong Faith Luncheon sponsored by the mission, plans were outlined for a major $15 million project that aims to see homelessness reduced in Marion and Polk counties. The mission seeks to replace its deteriorating and cramped men’s facility at 345 Commercial St. with a new building adjacent to the mission’s existing thrift store about five blocks north on Commercial.
The new 54,000 square-foot campus would give the mission capacity to serve twice as many men annually. Whereas the current facility has 150 beds, the new would have 300. Chapel seating would increase from 84 seats to 264, and the dining area would accommodate 200 rather than 84. An expanded learning center would provide an estimated 8,200 hours each year instead of the current 5,100.
The need for more room is clear, because of growing demand for services, according to mission leaders. There has been a 15 percent increase in the past eight years in the number of men provided beds at night, and a 30 percent increase in meals served.
The mission also operates a separate women’s and children’s shelter in Keizer called Simonka Place.
Acquisition of a small parcel of land adjacent to the thrift store would allow construction of the new men’s building; the mission plans to sell the property on which the current men’s mission stands.
There are an estimated 1,100 homeless at any given time in the Salem area, and several community leaders spoke at the luncheon in support of the mission’s efforts to meet the local need. They included Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson; Paul DeMuniz, retired chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court; Salem businessman Dick Withnell; Pastor Justin Greene of Salem Heights Church and Sam Skillern, executive director of the Salem Leadership Foundation.
“We may vary in our denominations and churches, but we have a fundamental belief in Jesus Christ,” said Carlson. “He taught we are here to serve. That is our calling.”
“Any of us could be a person who needs help,” said DeMuniz. “We all need redemption. We’re all God’s people. We see the Lord’s face in all of us. That’s why we’re here. That what this is all about.”
Greene called on other churches to join his in backing the effort. “It would be sad not to have your church involved in something that creates such great transformation,” he said.
Also speaking was the mission’s retired executive director, Tom Zobel, who noted that he himself came to faith in Christ as a one-time resident of the mission. “I am utterly thrilled by the vision I see for UGM in the future,” he said. “Not just buildings, but the Christ-centered programs.”
The $15 million goal for the project would not only build the new facility and allow purchase of the additional property needed, but also enhance thrift store operations with added warehouse space and retire mortgage debt.