Each and every day, our story as a 400-bed gospel rescue mission proclaims the wondrous love and work of our God and Savior. Just when it seemed Eugene had no room for a mission, God had something far greater in mind.
It all started in the 1950s. Back then, the former Shield of Faith ministry operated a small mission on the second floor of an old store in downtown Eugene, where the Eugene Hilton stands today at Sixth Avenue and Willamette Street.
Hungry, homeless men came to the upstairs location for meals and gospel messages. No beds were onsite, other than for workers, but the little mission provided a brief respite for souls left to the streets and rails. When Shield of Faith changed the course of its ministry and the mission risked closure, God moved the hearts of local businessmen to continue the venture for His wandering lambs.
Thus, on December 11, 1956, the Eugene Mission was born, incorporated by Jack W. Gossard, Robert B. Freeman and John Huber.
“I know the plans I have for you”
Picking up where Shield of Faith left off, the fledgling Eugene Mission continued to feed homeless men each evening in the old storefront downtown. But then, just years later, the mission itself became homeless.
The city of Eugene had big new plans for downtown, and those plans did not include an old storefront where crowds of transient men gathered each evening at mealtime. Time for the mission to go.
And yet, God had much bigger plans for his ministry. In 1962, the Eugene Mission relocated to 1925 Roosevelt Boulevard. Once again homeless men had a safe haven for a hot meal, though still no place to spend the night.
After dinner, the men returned to the streets. That same year, God called Ernie Unger, who had been working as a shift supervisor at the Rosboro mill in Springfield, to replace Roy Gable as the mission’s new executive director. Ernie would hold the job for half a century and, with wife Pat at his side, help guide the mission through dramatic changes:
In 1967, a new building on First Avenue, the mission’s current site. Cafeteria for meals, and now something very big and new: 50 beds. No longer would the mission have to send homeless men back on the streets after their evening meal. Today? More than 400 beds for men, women and children. Now as then, Eugene’s one and only overnight shelter for the homeless.
In 1971, day room. Warm, dry place for guests at all hours, not just overnight. Laundry facilities; haircuts; lounge area.
In 1979, a women’s center with 50 beds. Separate from men’s quarters. Refuge for homeless women; help for domestic abuse, addictions. Dining hours scheduled separate from men. Today, beds for up to 60 women.
In 1998, a mother and children’s center with 34 beds. Children greeted with teddy bear, bed quilt, new school clothes. Play area. Moms, children never separated; help for moms without jobs, homes. Save haven from domestic abuse. Separate dining area during women’s hours in cafeteria.
In 2011, a month shy of his 77th birthday, Ernie Unger stepped down as executive director. During his 50-year tenure, God had expanded the mission from a simple place for meals to an 11 building campus on 7.5 acres, all along First Avenue. For our new executive director, God called longtime corporate executive Jack Tripp from Massachusetts. Jack, who had been a senior executive for various Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies, was quick to hear the Lord’s call. In both of their hearts they heard the Word of God: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” With his extensive corporate background and management experience, Jack has a unique skill set for meeting extreme new demands on the mission: upgrading technologies and systems, and a desire to share the mission’s purpose and ministry with a new and expanded audience – all the while continuing the mission’s core purpose of food, shelter, gospel and restoration to record numbers of God’s lost sheep.
Sheep who, more and more, often face life challenges far beyond their poverty. But we know the One to whom they belong. And we know the One who holds our future — just as He has directed our past.
In 2013, a brand new women’s center, providing expanded shelter and personal services to Oregon’s fastest growing homeless population. Currently sheltering 65 each night, the hope is to eventually staff the center to be able to serve over 100 women each day.