The Nature of Homelessness

On September 5, 2018, I attended the forum for City Council candidates in the upcoming city election. One of the questions for the candidates was, “What do you see as one of the significant problems the city is facing and what do you hope to do about it?”

A significant number of candidates identified the homeless as a problem and offered that they did not know what to do about them. Because of the nature of homelessness the solution is not easy.

Homelessness is a circumstance of life no one is ever really ready for. No one ever said, “My goal in life is to be homeless.” Nor has anyone responded to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “I want to be homeless, broke, and disdained by society.” When we see human beings as a problem – we become the problem because we are using ourselves as the model for others to live up to. I have noticed we seem to have more compassion for a homeless cat or dog than we do for our fellow humans who are experiencing a homeless event.

Homelessness is a very difficult thing to confront because it has so many causes. People suggest that there is a lack of affordable housing. Others suggest there is a lack of jobs providing a living wage. One could also suggest that burdensome taxation results in homelessness – or any other myriad of reasons. When an individual has to choose between medicine, food, or housing – people choose to try to make it by living in the woods or under a bridge. Food and life-sustaining medicines are essential. Tents or shacks are not adequate housing, but provide for the immediate protection against the elements and is thought to be appropriate for a short period of time. No one thinks homelessness is forever.

Perspective is another part to the issue of homelessness.  Although it has been said perception is 90% reality … our perceptions are not always right. When the homeless are perceived as a problem we become convinced – they are the problem.   Are they the problem? And if they are, why are they the problem? Is it because they use the library or enter a store? Is it that they have a strong odor because they lack bathing and clothes-washing facilities? Is it because they walk our streets? Let me note: I have never been able to distinguish homeless people just because they are walking the street. In fact, one of the city council candidates stated that he was pedestrian. One of our sitting city council members walks downtown, has he been mistaken for a homeless person?

Does carrying a backpack classify a person as homeless or a college student? Is a homeless person addicted to drugs or alcohol before the homeless event or does addiction develop as a way of dealing with the hardships of being homeless? These questions illustrate our perceptions and the folly of them.

No one single answer will address the homeless issue or our perceptions. I would like to note that these same perceptions are foisted on many nationalities living in America and that is what we call prejudice.

People make choices and must live with consequences of those choices. Unless homeless people or drug addicts want help we cannot help them. It is a choice they make and they have to choose to change. Why should homeless people want to change when all of our actions towards them speak of the disdain we have for them?

Let me state, we have the same goal as the city council and many people in our community has – we do not want people to live on the street. Our approaches may differ but our goal is unified. We must help those people who are in dire circumstances to be lifted out of them. Compassion requires action… Union Mission is acting on their behalf.


Pastor George Batten

Executive Director


I drove past a house with a lawn sign that read, “No room for hate here.” To be honest I could not understand its purpose. Did they mean if you did not agree with their politics you were a hater? Or for that matter, to just plain disagree with them on anything makes you a hater?

Every day at the Mission someone inevitably disagrees. There is a vast range of topics open for disagreement. I have sat with residents and heard them state, “And you call yourself a Christian!” This has trouble written all over it. First, it presumes that love is permissive. Second, it presumes that their definition of Christianity is the one we are going to adopt. Third, I think this is a feeble attempt at manipulation.

Love is accepting but it is not permissive. I have heard the term self-determination thrown around, as if to imply that self-determination is the ultimate experience and cure all. However, our nation is a nation of laws and those laws infringe on self-determination. Our laws are very strict and even regulate the speed you drive your car. We know that a person who has addicted themselves to drugs or alcohol has gone too far. There is a right or wrong factor. Even if you legalize all substance abuse you have not made it right.

I agree, I grew up in an era where right and wrong were clearly defined. I also admit that some will see me as a throwback. But to be honest, I like the security of a clear definition of right and wrong and I do not feel I have missed out on anything because some consider my beliefs to be archaic. If self-determination has brought you to a state of homelessness, better choices must be made. I just point to the government’s Housing First Initiative as proof of my point that homelessness is unacceptable.

Love does not allow for you to destroy your life and someone else’s at the same time. In this recovery program, our love for a resident cannot allow the same resident’s relapse to destroy another’s recovery. Why should we love one resident above the other? Why should someone’s choice to relapse be allowed to destroy another’s recovery?

Defining Christianity is somewhat more difficult. There are many Christian denominations. Christ is at the center of all Christian religions. You cannot have Christianity without Christ. I know – more archaic beliefs. I rather enjoy having this clarity of thought though. Christianity is built on Christ’s teaching, that is why we hear the “I thought you were a Christian,” comment. But often it is a misunderstanding of Christ’s teaching that leads to this thought. Many will state “God is Love.” Does your love for your spouse accept infidelity? Do you always say “yes” to your child and never say “no” because of love?  Why does God’s love have to accept every form of disobedience to His commands and teachings? Why should we continue in sin? No, not every Christian belief system emphasizes the same teachings of Christ but that does not negate the teachings of faith, obedience, and transformation.

Attacking another’s opposing beliefs because it doesn’t agree with our beliefs is manipulative; it is offered to persuade the response. It is meant to be a superior idea.

Union Mission has a clear definition of Christianity. We offer a life in Christ as the best option to the place where self-determination has led. That right and wrong is determined through the scripture is the basis of our thought. And yes, in spite of all our flaws, we hold firmly to faith in Jesus Christ. As long as I have breath and sit as part of Union Mission you can rest assured that Christ is our creed. He is the basis of homeless recovery. We are not full of hate just the opposite …. we love.

The New Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was a romance novel written in 1850 but set in the 1640s. According to Wikipedia “it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. Throughout the book, Hawthorne explores themes of legalism, sin, and guilt.” Hester’s punishment is to wear the scarlet “A” for the rest of her life.

According to NBC News there have been calls for the homeless and beggars to be moved in preparation of the Prince’s wedding because it “is presenting the picturesque English town in a poor light, the local council leader has said.” Reports are that British Prime Minister Theresa May has rejected the calls to move the rough sleepers and beggars.

In an NBC Bay Area News article dated January 28, 2016 they stated, “The homeless in San Francisco said they are being herded out of the Embarcadero as the city prepares to kick off Super Bowl City this weekend.”

Leading up to Super Bowl 50 in 2016, USA Today ran an article that spoke of a homeless man named Otto stating, “He’s made enough mistakes in his life, most of them he says due to alcohol, …” the article goes on to say “To assume that the homeless have no structure to their day and no pride in it is a common fallacy.” The article also mentions “Stephen Frates, 48, meticulously keeps his tiny section of Eighth Street sidewalk in shape. His hair is brushed and well-kept and as he shows a reporter his makeshift home, he apologizes for it being messy, even though it isn’t.”

After reading that you can understand why I believe homelessness is The New Scarlet Letter and why I believe there is a blazing red “H” engraved on the homeless.

In Marion County, how does someone determine whether another individual is homeless? There is no makeshift shelter on the street. There is no particular corner for them to stand on. There is no skid row. I have observed in my lifetime many people looking down their noses at others. Many of the people that eat at the Mission have housing but not enough income to support housing and food.

Our attitude towards the homeless can reveal a superiority complex. Many discriminatory practices that are decried by the majority of our society are now foisted on the homeless. How can you justify discrimination? You cannot – even if the person is homeless. We are willing to give understanding to many different people with many issues – so why not the homeless – why can’t their cause be heard?

My approach is very different in this writing, yet it is my hope that you will raise the homeless up one peg in your esteem – that they would be worthy of your compassion. It often seems to me that Union Mission is the only one taking up the fight on behalf of the homeless or speaking out on their behalf. They need a voice – a voice that urges them to a better life and urges compassion for them – a voice that resounds with compassion for them.

Please do not add the scarlet “H” to the many other burdens they carry. There is no reason for the stigma we place on them – other than the fact that they are not just like us. The stigma (the Scarlet H) society has placed on them can be lifted helping them out of their present circumstance.

Lessons From The Mountain

Several years ago, and I mean several, I climbed Mt. Katahdin at the end of the Appalachian Trail in Central Maine. The mountain is one mile high and honestly I did not start with an overly positive attitude toward the goal. We started real early in the morning and reached the summit at about 1:00 pm.  The view from the top was exhilarating and worth the effort – getting there was the problem.

We took the less difficult trail to the summit because climbing The Chimney and crossing Knife’s Edge was out of the question for me. Along the way the climbing became difficult and in places only sheer determination allowed for success. In fact, at one juncture my climbing companion had to drag me up and over. Exhaustion became an enemy as we descended – we had to reach our automobile before dark. A dwindling water supply became another obstacle in our race to leave the mountain. As I took refuge in my home, at the end of the day tired and sore, I had satisfaction with achieving a life-long personal goal.

Homeless people have many obstacles to overcome as they reach for life-long personal goals. Some of those obstacles include but are not limited to; developing a positive attitude, exhaustion from being homeless, and finding life essentials. There are occasions when they need encouragement from a companion or someone to drag them up and over. I hope they will look back, when homelessness is but a distant memory, with a sense of real achievement at overcoming the obstacles of homelessness.

Conquering homelessness happens inside of a compassionate support system. The staff of West Virginia Rescue Ministries compassionately encourages recovery and is the necessary support system.

We greatly appreciate the support of friends, family, churches, and community in making redemptive recovery a reality for many. We ask you to join us in being a companion in their struggle to make a better life.   Visit us at to participate with this ministry and remember Matt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Our Purpose is Spiritual!

A war on the homeless is a war on the poor. This is significant because God has much to say about our treatment of the poor. Proverbs 14:31 ESV says, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”

I could raise several questions about government welfare programs but will not. My purpose is not political but I am concerned about the treatment the poor and homeless receive. Union Mission is not a social agency – our purpose is spiritual. Servicing our residents means we delve into the social sphere. Because our city government wants to wage war on the homeless, we are now engaged in the political arena. The basis of this is partly a misunderstanding of Union Mission’s ministries. We are not just a homeless shelter although we shelter the homeless. Our goal and desire is; to lead recovery for the homeless and addicted. Not all homeless people are addicts but all homeless people are in need recovery.

Our meals program operates on a needs basis for the physical bread of life. There are people in our communities that work and cannot sustain themselves without Union Mission. We see more families coming to our dining hall towards the end of the month. They must, their choice is pay the rent or buy food. The National Low Income Housing Coalition states that a resident of Marion County must earn $15.29 an hour to provide a two bedroom apartment and maintain all other necessities of life.

The homeless digging out of their poverty cannot find jobs paying $15.29 an hour. Affordable housing is not available to them. Most government programs offer little hope of rising above poverty level. The government poverty guideline state $25,525 is 125% of the poverty level but it takes $31,803.20 to sustain housing and food. Government programs end $6,000 short of what a family of three needs.

End the war on the poor. God asks us to help the poor climb out of poverty. Consider, Psalm 12:5 ESV “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” It is Union Mission’s desire to be the safety for which the homeless and poor longs.

George E. Batten
Executive Director

The Beginning of War on the Homeless

If you have not heard the Fairmont City manager and others have decided to do away with “tent city.” Now at the outset let me make it clear we may be doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons in a very terrible way.

Again, let me be clear homeless people have shorter life spans for numerous reasons including poor sanitary conditions. I have often stated homeless people look for safety. Those with drug induced paranoia are going to feel safer in a way we do not comprehend. If one third of the homeless have mental illness we need to understand they are not necessarily thinking logically. If 40 percent of all homeless people have some income but cannot afford housing, a housing first mentality ignores them.

People are basically homeless because of a life altering circumstance or an addictive lifestyle that separates them from housing. A life altering circumstance can be a loss of job or even a sickness with a medication cost that makes them chose between housing and meds.

All homeless people are not criminals. It is not helpful when well-meaning people label the homeless such. I understand that the impetus of this was the discovery of a meth lab under the High Level Bridge. The Housing Coalition wants to house all of the homeless in government funded housing. This would mean my tax dollars would be paying for meth labs. Because if you do not change an addict’s thinking you will not change their actions.

The City and the Homeless Coalition state that the Mission and its rules create barriers for the homeless. Rules are necessary to an orderly society. Rules protect the residents and the Mission facility. The safety of all the residents motivates Mission rules. Put 50 to 80 people under one roof and the necessity of rules becomes clearly evident. The mandate for closing tent city comes from city law established for an orderly society thus creating barriers for the homeless.

Right relationship with God brings about moral living. Moral living is the basis of an orderly society. Union Mission began in 1937 based upon this principle and continues to adhere to this precept. We will not concede this principle to a politically correct agenda.

The city’s approach has just driven the homeless underground … has done nothing to protect them … and for some severed any hope of future help. Many of them have just learned to never trust government.

We will continue to be a beacon in the darkness as long as God allows. We are in the heart of the city to minister to those that have hit rock bottom and need guidance out of the pit. Recovery from homelessness is above all difficult and education does not prevent homelessness or addiction (See Lynn’s Story June 2017 Newsletter). Union Mission is not just a homeless shelter it offers recovery programs for all. I understand the word recovery is associated with addiction or disease, but if you ever were homeless you would use recovery to describe the horrors you have come back from.

In the future I hope Fairmont officials will take a different approach to drastic changes they want to undertake. They have done much to destroy the trust of the homeless people they are supposed to serve.

George E. Batten
Executive Director

There is a Want!

In the April 5th edition of “The Fairmont News” was an article about the drug epidemic in this community. In the article Fairmont’s Police Chief, Steve Shine was quoted as saying, “…they’re seeing that there’s a want for drugs, and these out-of-towners are seeking to fill that desire.”

Chief Shine succinctly sums up the drug epidemic. There is want for drugs. I grew up in the late 60’s and early 70’s and there was a want for drugs. In the 80’s there was a “Just Say No” campaign to deal with the drug epidemic of that decade. Drug education has been tried and although, a deterrent for some, it has not succeeded in stemming the tide of drug use or abuse.

There is a want and a desire for the euphoria obtained when chemicals are abused. I believe the greater question really is where does the want and desire come from? Why is there such a yearning in our society for drugs? It seems humanity is driven by want. Television ads prey upon want and create an imagined need for the product advertised. It is often been said “show me your checkbook and I can tell where your heart is.”

It was want that Adam and Eve succumbed to in the Garden of Eden. It was want that led David into adultery. Want becomes perceived need. Perceptions become reality. If we dwell on what we desire long enough, we convince ourselves we need what we desire. Add to this conundrum that we live in an era of immediate gratification; we then have to live with the results and consequences of our burning desires.

If we truly want to change people’s desire for the euphoria drug abuse creates, we must recognize it as a battle of the heart. To change a heart you must change the mind or in other words cause the mind to think differently. I strongly believe this drug epidemic is a spiritual problem with a spiritual answer.

When over 50% of babies being born are born addicted, we have a problem. Union Mission is one place in this community where people can find help. Addiction is the only disease that is cured with a choice. This choice is made at rock bottom. Enabling an addict prevents them from hitting rock bottom and delays recovery.

An addict must want to recover. The want for recovery must be greater than the want for their chemical of choice. Union Mission can be there to guide, encourage, facilitate, and help develop the choice the addict must make. Union Mission preaches the Gospel as a method of changing the heart and the mind.

George E. Batten
Executive Director

Jail, Institution, or Death!

In a recent letter to the supporters of Union Mission, I told the story of a 22 year old addicted male. His words still ring in my ears; “Jail, Institution, or Death.” I guess I never heard it put so succinctly. No doubt on his road to recovery he has heard it stated and it stayed with him.

Those are the choices that homeless and addicted people have … “Jail, Institution, or Death.” They also have the choice of recovery. Recovery is not an accident, recovery requires planning and commitment. Recovery is a choice that has to be renewed on a daily basis. Knowing that to choose differently leads to “Jail, Institution, or death.”

Each resident of our recovery program must make their own choice but we can encourage, instruct, assist, and facilitate them as they make that choice. We must also remember that “Jail, Institution, or Death” awaits the addict.

With God’s help anyone can recover from addiction and homelessness. Life change and life choices are at the root of any recovery. Letting God have the reigns of that recovery is the beginning of a successful one.

Although the choice is theirs, we must realize that they need encouragement to stay on a straight and narrow path. They need an outside influence, a calming voice, a caring touch.

I do not have to be an addict to understand the ominous words “Jail, Institution, or Death.” I have many stories of those that stated “I have one more drunk in me” and I also have stood by the grave site of the same individual that never survived that “one drunk” choice.

That is why “Jail, Institution, or Death” echoes in my ear. Union Mission exists as an alternative! A place of hope and recovery!

George E. Batten
Executive Director

Intervention for the Broken!

Why has Union Mission been in existence the last 80 years? Why was the first Rescue Mission established in 1872? One word explains it – brokenness. Brokenness of the spirit is the reason for our existence. Broken people need a place for healing. We have hospitals for sickness and diseases because people need treatment and a place to heal – a place where intervention happens. We have schools to educate children, to teach them life skills – a place where intervention happens.

Even animals have well trained educated veterinarians to intervene on their behalf. Rescue Missions represent the best of a caring society willing to intervene for people with broken spirits. Rescue Missions are where intervention happens. We do not always listen to our Doctors. We do not always listen to our educators and homeless people do not always listen or make the best choices.

Doctors do not give up because patients are non-compliant. Educators do not relent because students do not listen. After 80 years of intervention with the homeless we are not surrendering because homeless people still have broken spirits. In fact, we are encouraged because God is breaking the bondages of addiction, healing the inner man, and rescuing lost people.

We are the best society offers for the brokenness that no scalpel can remove, no surgeon can stitch, or no doctor can treat with powerful antibiotics or pills. Healing the spirit of man – is God’s domain. He created this wonderful thing called humanity and He knows it like only the architect can. He has been working on healing humanity since the fall of man. A Rescue Mission’s function is to be God’s hands in a segment of humanity needing intervention.

Rescue ministry is a special field of healing and requires patience. It is a God given vocation. God has always called to broken humanity. Since the fall, reverberating in eternity is God’s question, “Where are you?” Since 1872 in New York City and since 1937 in Fairmont, WV there has been a group responding “God, here they are!” – praying for God to heal their broken spirits. Proverbs 18:14 from the Holman Christian Study Bible reads, “A man’s spirit can endure sickness, but who can survive a broken spirit?” They can only survive with life sustaining help from a loving God.

Rescue Missions are a place for intervention; Union Mission has been the place of intervention in Fairmont since 1937.

George E. Batten
Executive Director

The Undesirable Thing Called Homelessness!

During a recent trip to Maine I heard someone referring to homeless people as undesirable. I agree the homeless situation is undesirable but homeless people themselves are not undesirable.

In view of this I would like to issue a challenge. The challenge is this: commit to living as a homeless person for seven days. Call us and let us arrange a bed, come live at the Mission for those seven days. Keep your job, but the rest of the time you live, eat, and survive as a homeless person. My belief is one or two out of one hundred that try this challenge, will make it seven days. Even if several people make it seven days it is not the same as what a homeless person lives with. Homeless people live with knowing that this undesirable condition may never end.

They live unsure of tomorrow’s meal, housing, clothing, and the luxury of bathing. They live a difficult existence. One that creates health issues and shortens their life span. My experience is that some of the homeless come from caring parents that are financially secure. Drugs and mental illness rob them of the promising future they once had. Even doctors and lawyers have lost all they had and are now homeless. They are certainly not undesirable.

A lack of understanding often is the basis of prejudices that develop labels like this one. However understanding does not erase reasonable expectations. Understanding does not excuse a behavior but should become a basis of assistance to overcome.

At Union Mission we believe no one set out to be bound by addiction. They did not get up one day and say, “I am going to become an addict or mentally ill.” But it did happen and on their part they must chose to overcome their addiction or take the medications that stabilize their mental illness. It is up to them, but it took years to lose all they had and it takes years to recover from the loss.

Compassion is the human response to the sufferings of others. Oxford dictionary defines compassion as, “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” All people deserve compassion whether homeless or not.

Rescue ministry is compassion in action in the face of this undesirable thing called homelessness.

George E. Batten
Executive Director