Foot-stomping gospel music and earnest testimonials about religious conversion enliven the video, but most people in the audience are slumped in their chairs asleep, nodding off, or staring vacantly.
Suddenly, at 6:15 a.m., the screen goes blank, the lights go on, and someone directs the congregation, row by row, to rise and proceed to the next room. It's breakfast time at San Diego Rescue Mission, which has dispensed "soup, soap, and salvation" to the hungry, homeless, and working poor downtown since 1955.
The cafeteria, which is part of the Mission's complex at 1150 J Street, is furnished with orange and yellow plastic chairs attached to tables. As the crowd of 200 files in, each person receives a beige tray and a plastic spoon wrapped in a napkin. The clothes of one man are filthy as though he had rolled in dirt. Another man needs to shave. One woman is drunk. Another woman shuffles along in flip-flops. Someone limps. A few people wear sunglasses.
James Jackson Jr. doesn't focus on physical imperfections or categorize potential mental problems that might stand out to other observers. "The way I look at it, when we serve the homeless, we're serving Christ," says Jackson, the Rescue Mission's new chief executive officer. "Our God comes through that door every morning." Doling out scrambled eggs isn't part of Jackson's job requirements, but he regards serving breakfast occasionally as one of his perks.
A deeply religious man, Jackson stopped teaching history at Point Loma Nazarene University two years ago to start a second career through which he might better express his beliefs. He was content working for his church, the First United Methodist Church, as its director of Christian adult education. Then, in May, Jackson accepted an offer that pulled him into the streets of downtown San Diego and the middle of a new baseball district.
The Rescue Mission was seeking an interim chief executive to succeed Bill Brunk, who had retired. Bert Wahlen, the mission's board chairman, says Jackson's keen intellect, compassion, and energy could help lead the nonprofit organization into the next century. About the only strike against Jackson, a former Habitat for Humanity volunteer, is that he has never worked with the homeless. Nonetheless, his stint in the ivory tower may serve the mission well; his expertise as a historian is urban migration.
Jackson is likely to relocate the mission within San Diego, assuming the board retains him permanently.
After only a week on the job, the environmental impact report for the Padres' proposed baseball stadium landed on his desk. The voluminous report hints that plans for shops, eateries, bars, and other concessions in downtown's East Village could result in the loss of the San Diego Rescue Mission, causing a significant impact on the homeless. Although the mission's various facilities do not appear on the Centre City Development Corporation's lists of properties to be acquired or organizations to be moved, a careful reading of the report's maps and guarded language reveals various adverse impacts on the mission.
Most affected would be the men's shelter, a 44,000-square-foot building where residents serve free breakfast daily to whoever arrives before 6:15 a.m. Several times a week the shelter distributes clean clothes and makes its showers available to homeless men. Because the second-floor dormitories rely on windows for ventilation, the stadium's light and noise would disrupt the sleep, study, and prayers of nearly 200 men, mostly recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. Jackson figures retrofitting the building with air-conditioning and new windows would exceed $500,000; he hasn't begun to research the cost of moving or rebuilding.
Despite such severe impacts, the mission last week endorsed the ballpark via Citizens for San Diego's Future. The loose alliance of civic groups -- ranging from the Asian Business Association to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. -- bought a full-page advertisement in the San Diego Union-Tribune to tout the project as a way to revitalize East Village. The mission did not contribute financially; Citizens for San Diego's Future says it plans to raise money for the ad.
The mission's endorsement was a bold move for Jackson, who did not consult the board, which had remained neutral under Brunk. Jackson said an old acquaintance involved with Citizens for San Diego's Future persuaded him to sign. "From my perspective, it's a way to reach out, find solutions, and deal with the reality of the situation." Jackson claims he was not trying to curry favor but rather avoid the bitterness that ensued in the 1980s, when the city forced the mission to move from the Gaslamp Quarter.
The mission is unlikely to get special treatment; baseball would intrude on nearly all of its operations.
A proposal to widen 12th Avenue threatens not only the men's shelter sitting between 11th and 12th but also the mission's thrift shop at 443 12th Avenue. Plans for stadium parking would raze a warehouse at 1300 L Street, where the mission stores donations of food, clothing, furniture, and other items that are sold in thrift shops.
Other facilities may not be affected: a house at 1401 J Street accommodating about 20 "graduates" of the men's shelter; the mission's offices at 939 S. 16th Street.; and a nearby shelter for as many as 70 women and children, mostly victims of drugs, alcohol, and beatings.
Jackson has resigned himself to many months of uncertainty. During talks with city officials, "I've been told that it's inevitable that we're going to move. Then I've been told, no, we're not on any list to be moved, we're in the way of nobody," Jackson said. "Whether we move or stay, a constant for us is we want to be good neighbors, and we have a mission given to us by God to serve the poor, the homeless, the abused."
The proposed ballpark jeopardizes every charity in the East Village, including the Salvation Army and Volunteers of America, said Diane Dixon, who operates Christ Healing & Prayer, a volunteer lay ministry serving poor people downtown. The Rescue Mission is the most vulnerable, she said, because of its proximity to the stadium site. The neighborhood's largest organization serving the poor, St. Vincent de Paul, may not be touched because it is far enough away and its massive facilities would be too expensive to move.