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Enjoy Magazine

The Good News Rescue Mission’s Journey Home Program

11/27/2017 11:00AM ● By Claudia Mosby

A Prodigal Story

December 2017
By Claudia Coon Mosby

Home Sweet Home. Home is where the heart is. There’s no place like home. These popular sayings likely evoke wistful feelings of warmth or reverie for those who live in safe and loving homes.

For the unsheltered or temporarily sheltered men, women and children in Shasta County, those missing that safety and love, The Journey Home program can help reunite them with loved ones.

Originally one of the 11 solutions of Redding’s 2014 Safe City Project, The Journey Home found sponsorship through the Good News Rescue Mission and began operations in January 2015.

“Joe Wong offered a community match and we raised $18,000,” says Janet Shields, coordinator of The Journey Home. “The money – 100 percent of it – funds bus passes for people to relocate.”

Shields emphasizes there was a lot of dialogue around intentions – those of the person wishing to relocate and those of the Good News Rescue Mission – and adds, “We wanted to make sure they always had an exit strategy on the other end with someone there to receive them.”

The Journey Home has relocated 277 people to date, including 77 women, 200 men and 20 children who moved with their parent(s). “We were able to send someone home who was dying,” says Shields. “The doctor said he was well enough to travel, but it was crushing. He wanted to go home and be with his family to die.” 

Program participants have traveled as far away as Jamaica and Germany, says Shields, who recounts the story of one client who had met someone over the Internet and spent his life savings to travel to Redding only to discover he had been cruelly tricked.

“He was devastated and wanted to go home,” says Shields. “We called the German consulate in San Francisco. They told us what day to have him down there and they flew him back. We make calls within a couple of months to follow up and see how things are going. As far as we know, things have worked out well.”

Clients who participate in The Journey Home cannot use Good News Rescue Mission services again for one year. “We want people to know that we’re to help them get home, not to come and go,” says Jonathon Anderson, executive director of the mission. “We’re not a travel agency; this is about family reunification.” 

Educating the community on the program’s purpose has been key to its success. Anderson, who says The Journey Home faced a lot of early criticism, began by speaking to members of the Merchant Crime Watch group and printing posters and business they could display in their shops. 

The media followed, then churches, social service agencies and law enforcement, which is now taking on an educational role itself.  “We presented to the California Highway Patrol, which included all shifts plus dispatchers,” says Anderson, who emphasizes the importance of this particular partnership.

“They’re patrolling our highways and will often find people camping out under an overpass,” says Anderson. “Someone may just be passing through, but it’s an opportunity to find out where they’re headed and if we can help them get back home.”

Anderson has developed relationships with the Continuum of Care Council, which includes more than 20 participating agencies. 

Shields and volunteer Linda Miller spend about eight hours with each client, which includes an interview and confirmation that the contact person will house and sponsor the individual – financially, spiritually and otherwise – if they return. 

Then The Journey Home staff arranges for departure. “If they’re here, we invite them to stay at the mission until they leave,” says Shields. “The timing depends on how soon the contact person gets back to us.” 

Good News Rescue Mission offers the client a shower, a new set of clothes and a food voucher for the trip. “We want it to be a dignified and joyous moment when the get there,” says Shields, and Anderson adds, “Sometimes they’re trying to escape negative influences in this community. Our goal is to facilitate the move as soon as possible.”

Individuals must be in a mental and physical state that allows them to travel either independently or with a caretaker.  “We don’t want to put someone on a bus if we can’t ensure their safety throughout the entire ride,” says Anderson. This means addicted individuals cannot be intoxicated at the time of travel.

Some reunifications take place within a few hours, while others can take up to a week. “A few have returned, but overall the success has outweighed the failures,” says Anderson. “We get calls and letters all the time thanking us. It’s like the Prodigal Son story. We hear about the positive things people are doing with their lives.”