How the Nonprofit Helps Skid Row Homeless
With certain homeless individuals, “What do you treat first – mental health or drug addiction?”
That was the question that Midnight Mission’s David Prentice posed to Palisades Rotary Club members at their breakfast meeting on July 11.
“You have to treat both at the same time,” he said, noting, “We change the behavior.”
Prentice received an award from Superior Court Judge Ochoa in 2015 for the outstanding work he had done with Santa Barbara County’s drug-addicted homeless population.
The same judge had sentenced Prentice to prison eight years earlier. Although he had served as a tank commander in the U.S. Army, he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years and was sent to jail for crimes against society.
While incarcerated, Prentice earned an AA degree in biblical studies and a certified substance abuse counselor credential. After release, he graduated from InterCoast College as valedictorian with a certification from the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors. He serves as the associate director of philanthropy at the Midnight Mission in downtown Los Angeles.
“We have provided services for 108 years,” Prentice said, noting that the nonprofit does not have a religious affiliation.
The Mission started in 1914 when Tom Liddecoate, a grocer and lay pastor, began providing food for men living on Skid Row at midnight. In 1922, the Midnight was given nonprofit status and in 1933, it discontinued religious services and affiliation.
The Midnight Mission is located at 6th and San Pedro in the Skid Row neighborhood.
“It’s a nightmare, especially at night,” Prentice said. “We are at the ground zero for homelessness.”
The Mission provides meals, basic needs, shelter, works with families and helps individuals work towards recovery.
“About 90 percent of the people we see have mental health issues,” he said. “And about 60 percent of our population is over 65.”
Three hot meals are provided to anyone who walks into the Midnight Mission, six days a week, with two meals on Sunday.
The courtyard outreach is a safe place for the homeless to sleep at night for those most resistant to shelters. The most vulnerable are soon identified and eventually brought into services.
The Midnight offers safe sleep accommodations, with the goal of eventually building trust so the homeless can receive help. There are clean restrooms, air conditioning and heating, and a safe, controlled environment.
There are 400 beds on the first floor and 250 on the second floor, which is considered crisis bridging. The people living there have no identification and no family contacts, but some of them attend drug and alcohol groups.
Prentice said the toughest challenge is the first 30 days, getting people to stay, so “we can change behavior.” People are provided help that will change their former behavior that may have landed them on Skid Row.
“As a drug counselor, I want to make sure they can be a productive member of society,” Prentice said. “It’s a long game, lifting the drain on society.”
He spoke about a woman, addicted to heroin, that had slept in the doorway seven years ago. Eventually she came inside and said she wanted to change her life.
She had become addicted to opioids and then a boyfriend gave her heroin because it was cheaper. He went to prison and she started prostituting her body for money to buy the drug, and eventually just traded her body for the drug.
“She’s now seven years clean and runs marathons,” Prentice said. “The program and the process work.”
Midnight Mission has opened 13 family units in Inglewood for women and their children. “It’s our smallest program, but it’s our most expensive,” he said.
Prentice was asked what Mayor Eric Garcetti was doing wrong in addressing the homelessness.
“Bureaucracy,” Prentice said. “He gets the money and the first thing he does is form a panel for $20 million that will decide how to spend the remaining $80 million.
“Give us the money and we’ll buy the building next to us to open more beds,” said Prentice, who noted that in the Midnight Mission program, once people conquered an addiction and found work, they are taught to save 70 percent, because that’s what they’ll need in Los Angeles. They are allowed to live at the Midnight Mission for a year.
He suggested that politicians take a page out of the Midnight Mission’s handbook: “We teach clients to be financially responsible by being financially responsible.”
To learn more and to make a donation, visit: midnightmission.org