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Departure of Las Vegas Rescue Mission employees stirs controversy

Updated September 10, 2018 - 5:56 pm

Eight former employees of the Las Vegas Rescue Mission say they were suspended and then fired after raising concerns about “God being taken out of everything” by the new CEO of the Christian nonprofit.

The ex-employees, who ran the homeless mission’s drug and alcohol recovery program, say they were suspended with pay Aug. 22 after they sought to speak to the board of directors about their concerns.

They were terminated five days later, they say, after drafting a letter to the board expressing apprehension about “non-Christian leadership and (the) direction of the nonprofit, which is based and founded upon Christian values.”

“God was kind of becoming absent,” Don James, the former recovery program director, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal after the termination. “We signed up at the mission because we loved our jobs, we wanted to help, we wanted to make a difference, and a big part of that is God. We didn’t want to see that go, and it was going.”

In a statement, new CEO Heather Engle said the Rescue Mission was “unable to comment about the recent departure of a handful of staff members.”

But she said the staff members’ sudden departure had not interrupted the services the mission provides at its campus at 480 W. Bonanza Road, including the addiction recovery program.

Services uninterrupted

“The program is ongoing and a permanent part of the mission, and we are continuing services,” she said.

Engle, who started at the Rescue Mission this summer, is the former director of the Women and Children’s Campus at WestCare, a nonreligion-based national nonprofit treatment center for drug addicts and the mentally ill. She is also a recovering addict.

The former employees said they began to see changes in operations shortly after Engle’s arrival, leading them to speak out. But they declined to comment further on the specifics of the CEO’s conduct.

“Legally, at this time, it’s not in our best interest to disclose that,” said Jamie Tullius, former recovery data administrator for the mission. “We went back to the property, we prayed, we requested to speak to the board, and we’re actually very surprised with the treatment and reaction we received while we were there.”

In contrast with the staff member’s claims, Engle told the Review-Journal last month she was working on building a team of pastors for the in-house chapel, but “We love everyone, regardless of what they’re affiliated with.”

James predicted playing down the religious component in recovery will hurt the Rescue Mission, which provides a free evening meal that feeds as many as 600 people a day. It also provides shelter for men, women and children, with designated areas for single mothers or single fathers and their children.

The mission operates an on-site thrift store that brings in some income, but it relies mainly on donations to cover its expenses.

‘It’s a passion’

But James said most donors “donate to the mission, the Christ-centered program,” and he maintained the Christian element was one of the biggest draws for people coming to the center.

He also said he and most of his colleagues had recently received raises and were an integral part of the treatment program’s success.

“We don’t work at the mission for a paycheck. We do it because it’s a passion,” James said. “This is the entire recovery staff, which is the backbone of the mission. We were all, in one swoop, removed.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.

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