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Mobile mission

"Mobile mission" Continued...

Issue: "Effective compassion," Sept. 2, 2006

The city of Fairfield has since pledged $900,000 toward Mission Solano's $9 million building project. City leaders are featured prominently on a fundraising video, extolling the mission's past accomplishments and urging their constituents to donate.

Still, the bulk of financial support originates in the private sector. Mission Solano generates more than half of its $2 million annual operating budget through social enterprises: coffee roasting, two thrift stores, and an auto lot. The businesses provide opportunities for job training-even long-term employment. "We really want to train people to do work," says social enterprise director Shawn West, as he drives through town in the mission's newly acquired delivery truck. "It's neat to be part of a business that's not just about the bottom line. For us, the bottom line is getting people off the streets." West donated his coffee-roasting business when he joined the mission's staff last year.

Nate Ratliff, 41, spent 14 years in and out of prison before entering the drug-rehab program earlier this year. He now drives a truck for the mission, helping collect donations for the thrift stores. His teenage children have begun to trust him again. "My priorities have totally changed," he said. "I wasn't really thinking about baptism a year ago."

Area businesses are handling building costs for the new facility. HomeAid Northern California, the charitable arm of the region's Home Builders Association, has pledged about $3.5 million. Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco has given $1 million to the project. Local corporations such as JellyBelly, the popular candy maker, and Sheldon Gas have also helped push the fundraising drive to near 70 percent of its final goal.

Such community support was not always so readily available. At a circuit court meeting in 2002, citizens rabidly opposed the construction of a permanent homeless shelter in any of the city's neighborhoods. Marlette's disappointment descended rapidly to despair that evening when a program participant stabbed a staff member to death on the kitchen floor of the outreach center. "I knew what the front page of every newspaper in the county was going to be the next day," Marlette recalls. "I thought to myself, 'All right God, this is it. There's no way they're going to let Mission Solano go anywhere after this.'"

But the publicity sparked a public rush of support for a rescue mission to help fight such violence. Mission Solano assumed that mantle.

While nomadic sheltering connects people to churches and provides safety throughout the night, it does not foster the stability of a permanent facility. The Bridge to Life Center will attempt to provide a consistent Christian atmosphere-and appealing aesthetics. "Architecture suggests something about what a community holds in value," said Tim LeFever, chairman of Mission Solano's board. "Those people who said 'not in my backyard' are now saying, 'This is something I can drive my kids by.'"

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