Reverend Richard Trickel on serving Cleveland's homeless...holiday guilt...and why The City Mission serves Thanksgiving dinner in December.

The Missionary 

Reverend Richard Trickel on serving Cleveland's homeless...holiday guilt...and why The City Mission serves Thanksgiving dinner in December.

It's the holiday season, which means most of us will be thinking for the first time all year about donating our time and energies to the less fortunate. City Mission CEO Richard Trickel does that all year long. An experienced Bible teacher with extensive ministry experience in both foreign and domestic missions, Trickel has been at The City Mission since 2004, overseeing a wide range of programs providing everything from crisis services to prison visitation. For him, the entire month of November is like Black Friday — but not the Black Friday you know.

What is The City Mission?

We've been in Cleveland for 102 years, serving the people in deep crisis in our city. We're a Christian organization, so our primary focus is to minister spiritually. But in addition, we meet their prevailing needs. We provide emergency shelter for men and women, long-term programming, and we have a very active youth program where we engage elementary school kids, as well as those in junior high. We provide all-day programming at the Mission when kids aren't in school — 400 were there every day the last time around. We also work with seniors, and with every prison in Ohio.

How much more could you be doing?

That's a lot of stuff.

This is the time of year when everyone gets generous. Do people show up at your door to donate food and time, and do their holiday good deeds?

Yeah, there's a lot of interest around the holidays, people like to come help. We can't even begin to facilitate them all. For us, the biggest thing that happens around this time is we receive about 47 to 48 percent of our budget. It's a real big time for us. We are privately funded, with some money from foundations, but we don't receive any government money.

So along with providing all the usual services, you're focused on staying financially afloat now?

It's our biggest time for funding.

In terms of numbers, how much help does the City Mission provide every year?

Just to give you the ballpark, our men's program last year served 68,000 meals and provided 29,000 nights of shelter. Our women's and children program served 56,000 meals and provided 38,000 nights of shelter.

Do you think Clevelanders have a sufficient grasp on the homeless problem in the city?

I think everyone has a sense that there is a problem in Cleveland, which has been recognized as having one of the highest poverty levels in the country. People know that. What they don't understand is the complexity of the problem. When you look at a person on the street, what you tend to think is, that homeless person needs a home. What people don't understand are the many factors that went into that person ending up on the street. Those underlying factors need to be addressed.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

On Thanksgiving Day, there are so many wonderful restaurants and places that want our folks to come eat there. The House of Blues is one example. We used to do a big meal here, but not anymore. There are tons of places that do that on Thanksgiving Day. So what we'll do is, in two weeks, we'll have a holiday meal for our clients and their families.

So you're filling in a gap between everyone else's big holiday gestures?

That's why we moved our day. There's so much available on Thanksgiving, it didn't make any sense.

Have you seen dramatic evidence coming through your doors of how bad the recession has hit Cleveland?

The interesting thing is, the homeless population has remained pretty stable. We didn't see a great increase or dip. It is what it is; if you're living on the street, whether the United States economy is good or bad, it doesn't impact you if you have nothing. One interesting thing is that we've seen a significant increase in the number of women and children coming in for services. That number continues to grow, to the point where on almost any given day, we can't handle all the requests for help. It's very serious.

What can folks do to help?

The City Mission is about life transformation. The men and women that come through the program do so on purpose. They're here because they want to see their lives changed. What we're doing is trying to help them get to a point of stability so they can return to the community. For that, we really do rely on the people of Cleveland to share with us, to give financially and with their time.

More by Vince Grzegorek

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