Sobriety started new path for Las Vegas Rescue Mission CEO

Ask Heather Engle how she got to her new position as CEO of the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, and she’ll take you back more than 11 years.

She checked the date on her iPhone Wednesday morning, learning it had been 11 years, eight months and 22 days.

“It started with sobriety,” Engle said. “It started with a failed suicide attempt.”

Engle went through detox at WestCare, and 18 months later was the organization’s chief of staff. She became director of the organization’s Women and Children’s Campus. This summer, she became the Las Vegas Rescue Mission’s first female CEO.

The Rescue Mission’s drug and alcohol recovery program has a capacity of 120 people at its Bonanza Road campus and provides “on-demand treatment,” Engle said.

“If we get a call — someone saying ‘I’m ready’ — we can bring the person in now,” Engle said. “We don’t need to go through the insurance hoops. If we’re 10 over, we can figure it out.”

The recovery element is a one-year program with a workforce component; participants cycle through kitchen, maintenance and security jobs at the Rescue Mission and build a resume, Engle said.

Jared Awerbach, the security operations manager, went through the program and was then hired as an employee, he said.

The Rescue Mission’s funding structure is different from those of many agencies because contributions are largely private dollars. The Rescue Mission’s on-site thrift store is profitable and frequently cycles through inventory, Engle said.

The free evening meal feeds as many as 600 people every day. Part of the dining facility is walled off to serve as a cooling station created in response to multiple heat-related deaths of homeless people, Awerbach said.

The Rescue Mission has a Christian overlay to its offerings, and Engle is working on creating a team of pastors for the chapel, but “we love everyone, regardless of what they’re affiliated with.”

The shelter houses men, women and children, with designated areas for single mothers or single fathers and their children. Engle is on a funding push for a children’s area and said it’s her goal to be able to house the women off-campus.

Engle sees long-term case management and more housing options as two of the most important things to make a significant difference in homelessness in Las Vegas, she said.

“There’s rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing. But a lot of the places they’re in are in less desirable areas,” Engle said. “We need a lot of housing that’s honorable. We need to build more housing for different groups: single men with children, women with children.”

Contact Jamie Munks at or 702-383-0340. Follow @Journo_Jamie_ on Twitter.

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