California homeless mission director pleads clemency for clunker cars

The federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program has been a financial shot in the arm for struggling auto dealerships. Across the country older cars have been turned in for newer fuel-efficient models with the promise of hefty rebate checks. Ron Marlette isn’t opposed to helping car dealers or the environment. He is troubled, though, by the impact Cash for Clunkers is having on the homeless. Marlette operates the Mission Solano rescue mission in Fairfield, Calif., located between San Francisco and Sacramento. The gospel rescue mission opened in 1998 and has gone from sheltering local homeless residents in buses to the construction of its Bridge to Life Center designed to house individuals and families. Marlette wants the government to consider having cars traded in on the clunker program to be considered for non-profit donations rather than necessarily going straight to the junkyard. “A lot of cars traded in are what I would consider nice cars,” Marlette said. “I’ve driven by our local auto mall strip several times. I counted over 200 cars with paint on the windows waiting to be crushed that I would truly trade my car in for. “I’m not saying anything against the car dealers. They have been great supporters of ours and I’m happy this is helping their business. I wish the dealers had the option to give the cars to charity instead of crushing them.” Marlette has a long history in Fairfield, and not all of it is good. In his youth Marlette was a drug dealer frequently without a home himself. He went through a rehabilitation program and was invited to a Billy Graham crusade by a church representative in a local mall he and friends had previously heckled. Marlette welcomed Christ into his life through the Graham meeting. His changed life resulted in marriage and a move to Portland, Ore., for college where he became involved in a local rescue mission. When he moved back to Fairfield he was inspired to start his own mission work. What to do and how to pay for it were understandably major issues. Through networking with local politicians and church leaders Marlette got a hold of a bus where local homeless could sleep and possibly be transported to other local churches which could house them. Twelve years later this concept of what has been termed “nomadic shelter” remains the mission’s signature service. “This was intended to be a temporary program that is still going strong and is one our most successful programs,” Marlette said. This importance of transportation for the homeless as they try to transition to a more stable existence is central to Marlette’s point about saving the clunkers. The homeless can use the vehicles for transportation to find and keep jobs, make doctor’s appointments and run ordinary chores people with cars take for granted, Marlette said. Mission Solano also uses cars to help its partnerships for auto repair training. “The vehicles can be used for people who can’t afford new cars and turn it into money and opportunity for ministry,” Marlette said. “A clunker brings to mind pictures of a rusted out 1965 Volkswagen, but that’s not what has been traded in. “Probably 95 percent of the cars I saw were decent, nice-running cars.” Like many non-profits, Marlette said Mission Solano is struggling in terms of donations. He said letting dealerships donate the cars would be, “a win-win for everyone.” “When the President did this I don’t think he thought of this as a consequence,” Marlette said. “For the non-profits that serve the homeless, it’s kind of like a one-two punch to a sector that operates ministries on donations and it’s tough right now. But, we have faith and know God knows what He’s doing.” The mission’s board president is lobbying politicians, including local Rep. Dan Lundgren (R – 3rd District) to take up a bill after the August recess. Regardless of any legislative outcome, Marlette is committed to the core Christian aim of the mission. “We are obviously a mission and getting a car also helps us get them placed in a church, discipled and build a relationship with Christ that will sustain them into eternity.” Link: Mission Solano: http://www.missionsolano.org/index.html

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