Bruce Donohue fills up a coffee cup for those living on the street or in camps. (Courtesy/Union Gospel Mission)
When Bruce Donohue hits the streets of Salem, he keeps a passage of scripture in mind.
In Luke 19:10, Jesus described how he had come “to seek and save the lost.”
That’s what Donohue, a Union Gospel Mission outreach worker, aims to do when he hits Salem streets in search of those who are unsheltered, hoping to build trust by offering them a hot cup of coffee or other items to keep them warm. He tries to develop a relationship with people and invite them back to Union Gospel Mission’s men’s shelter or Simonka Place, the women’s shelter. There, they are offered a meal, a shower, a place to sleep and, hopefully, a new course in life.
“If I can persuade them to want to come off the street that’s my goal,” he said. “We really do want to try and save them a couple ways. Save them the lifestyle they’re in and seek the resources they need, and at the same time meet them spiritually.”
It’s a life he was living before turning things around 17 years ago after getting out of prison and walking into the men’s shelter.
He graduated from UGM’s voluntary drug recovery program, the New Life Fellowship, in 2006. From there, he began managing the faith-based nonprofit’s donation center before joining the “Search and Rescue” ministry. Outreach for the program started three years ago to befriend people living on the street and find out what their needs were. Donohue is currently a one-man team.
Myron Jones, director of Union Gospel Mission’s men’s mission and men’s ministries, said he specifically sought Donohue for the role.
Picking Donohue for the job is one of the top five decisions Jones said he’s has made. In his role, Donohue will help the mission extend its services beyond the shelter walls, bring more people into the expanded shelter when it opens, and into the New Life Fellowship program.
Construction on the new men’s mission is nearing completion and it is expected to open in June, doubling the amount of bed space from the prior shelter downtown.
Jones said Donohue is able to relate to those living on the street and offer a story of hope.
“He was one of them, and he lived with them,” said Jones. “If Bruce has shared any of his story, you know his story is very similar to the people he’s trying to minister to. Because of that and because of the dramatic change in his life over the last 10 to 12 years, he’s able to share that gift of hope and grace that comes from God and also the help he received while he was here at UGM.”
On Monday, after one of the worst ice and wind storms in years, Donohue went out to encampments where he knew there were lots of big trees. He didn’t see any injuries but heard stories of people who were nearly struck by falling tree limbs..
“The places I went to, so far, so good,” he said.
There are often far-flung places in the city where people camp out. He’s able to find them because he once camped there himself. Donohue still recognizes people from his time on the streets.
“I’m really familiar with the streets here and lot of people I’ve known for years in the drug culture,” he said.
In a video promoting the search and rescue ministry three years ago, Donohue said he carries his last mugshot with him when to help tell his story to those who might not recognize him.
When he drives around in the UGM van, he said he’s always looking for new faces and is eager to get them connected with services.
“I’m looking for people we can bring in and help,” he said.
Jones said Donohue has been incredibly impactful in the community and brought in several men who have participated in the drug recovery program that otherwise wouldn’t have accessed services.
“He’s just fantastic in this role,” he said.
Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]
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