Mission 911 Corpus Christi helps the homeless
Corpus Christi native Tony Reyes never imagined the same building where he attended day school would one day be the headquarters of Mission 911, an organization he founded to help impoverished families find jobs and homes.
“I grew up in Corpus Christi, attended King High School and Del Mar College,” he said, adding that he had worked as a purchaser and a manager for retail corporations before finding his true purpose. “One day, after attending a spiritual retreat, I suddenly felt the need to do something different with my life,” he continued. “It was like a spiritual calling.”
Not long after receiving the call, Reyes discovered the building that formerly housed his kindergarten class was up for sale.
“To me, this place is considered holy ground,” he said. “It was where I first learned the Bible verse John 3:16*.”
By that time, however, the property had became a low-income rental property and a nesting ground for illegal activities. Reyes purchased it anyway, completely changing its purpose.
In his spiritual quest, he discovered about 75 percent of people who are homeless have a mental illness or a chemical dependency or suffered from abuse.
“They are too embarrassed, worried, angry at others or themselves to improve their lives,” he said. “I wanted to help strengthen people and to find a different path than what they’re walking right now."
In 2000, Corpus Christi Mission 911 was founded, named both for its street address — 911 Park Ave. — and as a symbolic call for help. It first began as a shelter for homeless men but has since evolved into a mentorship program helping individuals and families get ahead in life.
“The purpose of Mission 911 is to fill the gaps for families struggling with poverty but (who) are trying to move ahead in life,” Reyes said. “Whether they have a gap in spirituality, education or maintaining a job, we have different programs to strengthen people in those areas.”
Providing housing support while clients seek employment is one of the main focuses of Mission 911. When first purchased, the building was in shambles. In 2003, a $370,000 grant allowed Reyes to have the place renovated to provide a downstairs men’s section with 18 bunk beds that can be rented for $3 a day. Once a client gets a job, they can move into one of the apartments upstairs for $50 a week. They also become mentors for the men downstairs.
Three-bedroom apartments are available for married couples with kids, also at $50 a week. Participants can stay up to one year as they make an effort to get back on their feet.
“We're one of the very few shelters that help men with children,” Reyes said.
Clients have opportunities to participate in self-help programs such as the Getting Ahead class, a 16-week course on family budgeting. Participants are taught to assess their needs and make plans on how to best improve their lives. According to Reyes, the success rate is 85 percent. Plus, many of those who graduate from the program return as mentors and volunteers.
Mission 911 also sponsors an annual spiritual retreat for homeless men. Referrals for the four-day event in Zephyr Camp near Mathis come from homeless shelters across Corpus Christi as well as Mission 911.
This year’s retreat, “Walk to Siloam,” begins Feb. 22. A team of 40 successful businessmen, many of whom used to be homeless or in trouble with the law, will share their stories and become mentors. The event is free for attendees, but the actual cost is $12,000.
“We do fundraisers, and the workshop speakers also pay fees to help fund this event,” Reyes said. “For this event, we take donations of hygiene packs, cookies and Bibles to give the attendees in care packages. The only criteria for attendees is they have to want to do it and have to be sober for 30 days.”
No one is recruited for the event.
“They have to walk in here and ask about our programs,” Reyes said. “That's when I know they are ready to change.”
For Reyes, helping people to improve and fulfill their purpose in life is his purpose in life.
“Mental illness, chemical dependence, struggling with poverty are very difficult road blocks,” he said. “When I see someone overcome these roadblocks, that is the surprise and reward I receive in return. Never judge someone by how they look on the outside but by their heart, because inside, they may have a gift to offer to the world. You just to need to unwrap it.”
*JOHN 3:16 (New International Version)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
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