The Case for Support

The Capital Campaign for the Memphis Union Mission's Opportunity Center

An Increasing Demand
for Services

Memphis Union Mission has been the city's primary service provider to the homeless since 1945, and it coninues in that role even as the number of homeless individuals in the city has steadily increased.

For example, in its FYE 2013, the Memphis/Shelby County Continuum of Care reported that 2,837 unduplicated individuals used emergency shelters. Of that number, Memphis Union Mission served 2,596, or 91.5 percent, of these individuals.

During FYE 2014, 2,898 unduplicated individuals used Memphis Union Mission for emergency shelter, an increase of 11.6 percent over FYE 2013.

The Mission has witnessed first-hand the community's growing number of individuals in need of emergency services.

In a ten-year period, Memphis Union Mission increased the annual number of meals provided by 34 percent and the number of nights of lodging provided by 36 percent (see chart above).

And while the Mission's services are in demand year-round, the demand is particularly acute during weather extremes. Both Memphis City and Shelby County governments rely on the Mission's help during weather extremes to provide safe shelter for homeless men, and the Mission is part of the Office of Emergency Preparedness' winter contingency plan.

An Outdated Facility

But even as Memphis Union Mission has become the city's primary service provider to the homeless, it has been doing so with an emergency shelter that is functionally obsolete.

The Mission's Men's Emergency Shelter, located at 383 Poplar Ave., was built in the early 1960's. Trying to address 21st centruy needs with an outdated facility has presented the Mission with an increasingly difficult challenge.

Inadequate Bed Space

One of the biggest challenges comes from the fact that the current facility does not have adequate bed space for homeless guests. The facility has a functional capacity of 65 guests.

Sleeping on the Floor Sleeping on the Floor

However, in the most recent year, Memphis Union Mission served an average of 227 homeless guests per night. During weather extremes, it's not unusual for 325 guests to stay overnight. In these instances, most end up sleeping on temporary mats on the floor. Every night last year an average of 91 men slept on mats on the floor.

Nonexistent Classroom Space

Another challenge that the current facility poses is that it has no classroom space. It also makes it nearly impossible for the Mission to provide literacy and educational classes.

A Class Without a Classroom

No Dedicated Space for Supportive services

The Mission's current shelter does not have dedicated space for supportive services that could help homeless individuals rebuild their lives and gain self-sufficiency.

The Mission currently hosts a few third-party supportive services with its existing facility. For example, the Mission hosts Christ Community Healthcare's mobile medical bus every Monday. However, due to limited space, the Mission is restricted in its ability to host other various third party services.

A Class Without a Classroom

With space dedicated for third-party supportive services, it will be easier for homeless individuals to access medical care, legal assistance, literacy education and GED classes. Currently, these services are spread over the city and are difficult for homeless individuals to access.

Having these services located at one convenient location - one that many homeless individuals would already be accessing - would make a tremendous difference to people who are working toward self-sufficiency.

Dining and Worship Limitations

The current facility’s multi-pupose room is too small to accommodate all of the Mission’s guests, particularly during weather extremes or during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A Class Without a Classroom

In these instances, overflow seating has to be set up in the lobby and other common areas, and the building can become highly congested.

Having a dedicated dining area for homeless guests, and a separate, dedicated chapel area for worship services would alleviate the crowding that often occurs at the Mission’s current facility.

Aging Infrastructure

Finally, the facility’s aging infrastructure, especially its plumbing and HVAC systems, continually poses a maintenance challenge and an unneeded distraction from addressing guests’ needs. The facility’s age and outdated design makes it difficult to adequately serve the growing number of disabled guests.

Simply put, the facility cannot truly serve the growing number of men in need of emergency services.

In order to address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens, Memphis needs and deserves something better.