USC University of Southern California

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

The Ephemeral Life

By Savannah Vieth, freshman (undeclared)

Located a mere ten minutes away from the University of Southern California is the Union Rescue Mission. Most of those staying at the Union Rescue Mission started life at a severe disadvantage, have struggled with addiction, and have been in and out of jail. The Union Rescue Mission is a faith based homeless shelter located in Skid Row that provides emergency services, food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental care to those experiencing homelessness in the area. It also helps people in the long term by providing recovery programs, transitional housing, legal assistance, and job training. The Union Rescue Mission offers a Men’s life transformation program where men spend hundreds of hours learning, volunteering, getting counseling, taking bible study, and training for potential jobs. These men graduate from this program with tools and resources to become productive citizens.  This visit made me realize how much mental health affects someone recovering from any difficult situation.  If one is not mentally stable then it will be impossible for other aspects of their life to improve.

Coming to the Union Rescue Mission, I assumed that the dental care they provided was solely offered for health related reasons stemming from poor oral hygiene and/or drug use. However, I was surprised to find out that although the rescue mission does value the importance of physical health, they also greatly value the effects of aesthetics on one’s life. At first, one would think that one’s physical appearance would be  of the least importance in helping someone overcome homelessness. However, a nice smile in many cases can be the deciding factor in getting hired. In addition, when one has their teeth fixed they gain confidence, which results in improved mental health. Many of these people have been on hard drugs for long periods of time and have lost their teeth along with their self-confidence. I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing that our society is so vain and judgmental that people who are more physically attractive have a better chance of getting hired and are treated favorably. However, what is indisputable is that the USC School of dentistry is responsible for changing the lives of many homeless people, improving their mental health, and making them feel like an important part of society.

The Union Rescue mission takes measure to improve the mental health of adults however, they are aware that many children entering the mission may also face mental health problems. The Mission provides many activities and services to improve the mental health of these kids.  While taking a tour of the facility, one minor detail ended up having the most profound impact on me.  I notice a small Hannah Montana sticker on one of the lockers inside the private living facilities for families staying at the Rescue Mission. This faded image of the Disney channel star was the only small pop of color against an otherwise sterile, plain, and grey room. To me this sticker represented childhood innocence in the midst of terrible circumstances. I began to think about my childhood bedroom filled with toys and stuffed animals. Children staying at the Union Rescue mission don’t have their own rooms let alone a place they can call home. This sticker allowed the child to add something of his or her own to this unfamiliar and temporary home. To me this represented their attempt to create stability and continuity in their otherwise chaotic and uncertain lives. Although being homeless as child is not a proper or healthy way to grow up, the Union Rescue Mission provides opportunities for kids to learn and play. They offer playrooms, childcare, tutoring and programs for kids living in the rescue center. They hold events and have a play ground on the roof of the center. The roof offers the residences a beautiful view of Los Angeles and a place to temporarily escape their troubles and forget where they are. By addressing the mental health and providing counseling to these children, the Mission is helping to improve their current circumstances and alter the course of their lives. One would hope that by getting help early on, many of these kinds will be able to have a brighter and more successful futures.

Although I have no idea what these people are going through or how they feel, I do know that the Union Rescue Mission is able to provide a temporary place of safety and love. One should not let their pride get in the way of them seeking help, but rather make use of the many benefits the Union Rescue Mission has to offer. The Rescue Mission’s approach to self improvement through improving one’s mental health is crucial to setting it apart from other centers and what makes it such a success. As we drove away in the school bus, I couldn’t help but think back to the sticker and hope its owner was able to receive long-lasting help from the center, both mentally and emotionally.