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Community Renewal Good Stories - El Paso

Faith-Based Furniture Factory Builds Skills of Homeless in El Paso EZ

El Paso, Texas, EZ

"Our business is a little different from most," notes the Web site of Rescue Furniture, a faith-based enterprise in the El Paso EZ. "We are not in business to see how much money we can make. We insist on hiring only homeless persons, and we give hiring preference to the most disabled persons that we can find."

In June 2003 El Paso's Rescue Mission created Rescue Furniture to provide employment for homeless persons while teaching them marketable woodworking job skills. Rescue Furniture opened with an annual budget of about $120,000-reflecting wages for four laborers, a shop foreman, shop equipment, office equipment, and overhead, not including lumber costs. The project submitted a grant request to the El Paso EZ that met the EZ's parameters of a 1:5 leverage ratio. The EZ approved a grant of $26,172.

Rescue Mission envisioned also that the new furniture factory would create superior quality products that would change public perception about the work that homeless persons are capable of achieving. Today Rescue Furniture manufactures heavy-duty all-wood bunk beds, single beds, three- and four-drawer chests, and bedside tables. The products are attractive, economically priced, and durable. Potential customers include consumers, local retailers, other missions and shelters, and government agencies.

All Rescue Furniture workers are recruited from residents in the homeless shelter in the El Paso EZ. Most of the workers are recent graduates of the mission's 13-week drug and alcohol treatment program. Of the eight employees building furniture, six are doing so well that they have been able to get their own homes or apartments in the community. Another employee has gone on to employment with a company in El Paso, receiving a pay boost to $8 per hour instead of the $5.50 per hour wage at Rescue Furniture.

The Rescue Mission, a faith-based group, was established in 1952 to address the needs of the homeless in El Paso County. Over the past 15 years, the organization has transformed itself from a provider of food, clothing, shelter, and counseling for a temporary stay into a provider of services to help homeless persons obtain stable housing, develop full wage-earning potential, and reintegrate into society.

For additional information on Rescue Furniture, please visit the Web site or contact Blake Barrow at (915) 532-2575. For more information on the programs of the El Paso EZ, please contact Empowerment Zone Coordinator Isela Robison at (915) 541-4629.