This story has been updated with a clarification from Susan Cancro.
LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – While the Lansing City Rescue Mission is working on a new shelter location, advocates are raising concerns about alleged discriminatory actions by the private agency.
Representatives from the Lansing Area AIDS Network and independent homeless advocate Jody Washington, a former city council member on the ballot for a new post in November, have raised concerns about the Mission’s practices related to people with significant medical issues and disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Mark Criss, executive director of the Lansing City Rescue Mission, tells 6 News his agency does not discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, but it also cannot necessarily accommodate people with serious medical conditions and disabilities.
“What we’re struggling with, as well — because we don’t have staff who are medical personnel — and they’re being asked not only to deal with people who are angry through the night, who are dealing with coming down from something, but they have these people that they have to take care of who should never have been there in the first place,” Criss tells 6 News.
Criss says his agency is faced with people who have significant recovery needs from serious medical issues or long-term disabilities, such as incontinence, who require assistance in the day-to-day care.
“We’re not a nursing home or a respite facility,” he says.
Susan Cancro, executive director of Advent House – another homeless agency, recently took over coordination of the greater Lansing area’s homeless funding. She says the explosion of homeless people in the area – up 300% in the last year – combined with the hospitals not having the capacity to address complicated medical recovery in their facilities, is leaving vulnerable people even more vulnerable.
“A simple bed is not enough,” she says. “We need programs and staff to help people. We need the staffing at a level we can move people out of the shelter and into homes more quickly.”
She says because there is a confluence of issues hitting all at once, the system is in crisis right now. “We don’t need a study right now,” she says. “We know we have a problem. We need solutions.”
Trying to address a housing crisis in the middle of the crisis is more costly and difficult for homeless service agencies to address, she says. “It costs more and it takes longer,” she says. “And it just leads to using a bigger Band-Aid.”
While complicated medical concerns are leading to some struggling for a place to stay, Kristina Schmidgall, executive director of the Lansing Area AIDS Network, says her agency has significant concerns about The Lansing City Rescue Mission.
“Lansing Area AIDS Network has concerns about the treatment of clients and other community members at The Mission, one of the largest local providers of shelter services. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community and individuals with disabilities have been discriminated against during this calendar year,” she says in a statement to 6 News. “We are concerned with organizations that increase barriers and do not work to solve the multi-faceted housing problem. Shelter services should be available to the most vulnerable without prejudice.”
Schmidgall says her staff have attempted “resolution of these specific instances,” but “have been met with resistance.”
Criss says he is not aware of LAAN staff reaching out with concerns about the treatment of clients by The Mission, but that he would be happy to talk to the agency. “We just shelter people. We don’t ask. We don’t identify. They don’t identify. It’s not relevant to us providing a safe place for you tonight,” Criss tells 6 News.
But Cancro notes the overt conservative Christian nature of the Mission may have a negative impact on the perception of members of the LGBTQ+ community. Because of historical trends — such as faith protests of LGBTQ + inclusion — that serves as a potential barrier. “It’s not going to work well by its very nature,” she says. “It’s not discrimination, but people don’t feel safe as a result.”
Friday Cancro asked to clarify, she said that all people are saddled with social prejudices, regardless of their faith system. Because of social prejudices, some members of the LGBTQ+ community also enter into situations like a shelter with their own pre-existing conditions which may influence their perceptions as well. “My experience with the Mission is that they show compassion for anyone who is homeless. They stand by their beliefs and are forthright with those they serve,” she says. “This doesn’t mean all experiences are positive. These are very complicated issues.”
The Mission, Criss notes, is a ministry. “Our number one purpose is the gospel,” he says. “We want to share good news of Christ, but it’s good news, it’s not bad, it’s not fearful news. So maybe that’s the perception, but our desire is to share the truth with ’em.”
The discrimination perception, he says, may be fed by a misperception of that faith. “Their perception is older Christians are not going to like me,” he says. “That’s why I identify as in reality, that’s not what Christ would do. That’s not what Christ would say. Serve ’em as you serve them and serve me.”