The new Rescue Mission of El Paso is going up fast on a two-acre lot about a mile east of Downtown, and its CEO, Blake Barrow, is one happy man.
That’s because the Texas Department of Transportation has started taking down the old Globe Mills buildings next to the existing Rescue Mission on West Paisano as part of the $640-million Border Highway West project.
Last year, TxDOT gave the Rescue Mission until July 1 to vacate the site it has called home for more than 30 years.
The state bought the property for $13.5 million, but finding a new location turned out to be an adventure.
Now everything is coming down to the wire. Jordan Foster Construction started work on the first phase of the Rescue Mission’s new home Nov. 1. It plans to complete the $8-million project at 209 N. Lee by June 10.
“The project is going great guns,” Barrow told El Paso Inc. “They’ve assured me they’ll be done on time, and I am certain they will.
“But, before we can move the first stick of furniture in, we’ll need an occupancy permit from the city, so I’m thinking we’ll start moving about June 20.”
Then, there will be 190 beds in two buildings on the site that El Paso Water Utilities gave up as part of a trade. That’s twice as many beds as the shelter has now, and Barrow thinks he’ll need them.
“Where we are now is isolated, sandwiched between railroad tracks and hard to get to,” he said. “I am confident that when we get to a more accessible location, there’s going to be a lot more people banging on our doors.”
The site is a little less than a mile east of Downtown, between Interstate 10 and East Paisano and between two rail yards.
The new building will have 66 beds for single men, 32 for families, 32 for women, supportive housing for 24 semi-permanent residents, 20 beds for a drug relapse prevention program and 16 for people in hospice or respite care.
Walking the construction site, Barrow showed off the large, one-story brick building the water utility had used for storage. A plaque says it was built in 1912.
“This is going to be the kitchen and dining room,” he said. “When I get something this old, I try to preserve it. It needs more doors and windows, but the structure’s going to stay. It’s got a gorgeous skylight.”
After everyone’s settled in at the new site, Barrow and the Rescue Mission board will begin fundraising for Phase 2 – expansion to a 2.6-acre lot on Cotton Street that the water utility is still using for fleet maintenance.
That’s where Barrow plans to build a 100-bed facility for homeless single parents with children and for young adults who turned 18 in foster care but have no place to call home. That site is separated from the Lee Street property by a rail spur.
“We want to build a family shelter for all our children, to take better care of the kids by moving them away from the adult shelter,” Barrow said. “We’ve never had anything bad happen to a child but with an adult homeless shelter you don’t know who you’ve got.”
“So, it’s just a more nurturing environment if we have the children in a separate building. And, it’s our opportunity to make the shelter bigger and better.”
The project could cost up to $4 million, more than the Rescue Mission will have left from the TxDOT money.
Last year, the Rescue Mission had just completed a major expansion and rehabilitation of its facilities on West Paisano when TxDOT said the site was needed for the Border Highway West.
Barrow said the Rescue Mission had borrowed money for that expansion and used part of the $13.5 million from TxDOT to pay off the debt, Barrow said.
“We’ll kick off our fundraising with the grand opening of the first phase, and we’re going to sell a whole lot of brisket,” he said.
Hallelujah BBQ is the name of the expanded catering service that Barrow and the Rescue Mission launched last year after buying a large, custom-made Johnson Smoker.
“We’re creating jobs, teaching people who are homeless to support themselves, and the people of El Paso get the finest BBQ in the world,” Barrow said. He is not humble about his barbeque.
The business now brings in about $2,000 a month, he said, but he has bigger plans.
Next year, Barrow intends to open Hallelujah BBQ Restaurant on a corner of the property at 124 N. Cotton and use it as the Rescue Mission’s training and employment center.
The wood-frame building dates back to the 1890s. It was the original home of the city’s trolley service, with the old mule stables next door. The stables will be preserved and used as kennels for dogs owned by people staying at the Rescue Mission.
“The restaurant opening is about a year off,” he said. “It’s going to take money to finish that building.
“But, regardless of how the economy is doing, people still like to go out and eat, and there’s just a ton of jobs out there.”