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Q&A: Thomas J. McLaughlin on Buffalo City Mission

Thomas J. McLaughlin is executive director of the Buffalo City Mission, which serves the poor and homeless through donations from individuals, churches, foundations and businesses. The mission provides shelter and offers long-term recovery programs, health care and other services. McLaughlin discussed that work.

>Q: Approximately how many people does the mission serve on an annual basis?

A: We served more than 4,500 people this year, providing more than 182,000 meals and about 61,000 nights of shelter. More than 3,000 of those people stay with us overnight, while another 1,500 come to us for additional services such as meals, groceries or health care.

>Q: What impact has the July opening of the mission's new facility, Cornerstone Manor, had on client services?

A: We are now able to provide long-term service for homeless women and children. They can now stay up to two years, where before we had to really try to push them out quicker for lack of space. They were getting out sometimes in three to six months. People who are dealing with issues that have brought them to homelessness are not going to be able to address those issues in that short a period of time.

We have been able to expand all the other services we offer the women. We offer full day care services, adult education, a full array of health care services, budgeting and home-skills classes and job readiness. These services help women deal with the deep-rooted issues that brought them to us.

>Q: Was there an increase in the number of people requesting service during the holidays?

A: Just because it's colder, our census is always up. But we also offer a lot of other services around the holidays. We deliver meals to shut-ins during the holidays for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we also provide gift services for people who live with us.

>Q: What changes in the homeless rate on a local level have you noticed over the years?

A: It's been growing every year, but we were up 18 percent in the number of meals and services provided in 2006 over the previous year, which is substantial. There are more people struggling with work issues, joblessness, addiction and breakdowns in families, and also more people losing government benefits.

>Q: How does someone access your services?

A: People walk in, or people drop them off. The men's center is at 100 East Tupper. The women's center is a safe location: (716) 854-8181, or visit

>Q: How has the Buffalo City Mission coped with the challenges of fund-raising in a tight economy?

A: We've tried to do a better job of managing gifts-in-kind -- food, clothing and even automobiles -- and non-cash gifts, items we can use to help raise money. We've also, I think, done a good job in growing our volunteer base. Our staff is very lean but the bottom line is we rely on the generosity of people to help us do what we do. We have so many people in the community giving, sacrificially, to help the people we serve. While there are so many agencies like us that are doing good work, many people feel it's important to give to the homeless, who are one step away from serious crisis or even death. Our message is critical.

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