After two year hiatus, Blue Water Area Rescue Mission reopens in Port Huron

Homeless men in the Blue Water area now have a warm option.

On Dec. 24, 2023, local nonprofit Blue Water Area Rescue Mission (BWARM) reopened after nearly two years of being closed. Still located at 1920 24th St. in Port Huron, BWARM has room for up to 30 men to spend the night, shower, eat, do laundry, sleep, and then have breakfast.

Renee Pettinger, Interim Executive Director of Blue Water Area Rescue Mission.“The Mission reopened Christmas Eve and we had one guest that night,” says Renee Pettinger, Interim Executive Director of BWARM. “Every day since then, we’ve had two, sometimes four – steady at 20 to 25. We’re also helping a young man, getting him a bus ticket to head back home to Tennessee.”

Taking care of one another usually takes a village, and so it is with the reopening of the Mission. Renovations began Nov. 18 and finished Dec. 22.

“We filled a dumpster,” Pettinger says. “The concrete was shaky; we gutted the kitchen; the front entrance was used as a closet — a lot of little things needed work.”

Local churches and other organizations were quite involved in helping. Although not an exhaustive list, organizations across the region including D & M Dumpster, Eighth Day Media, LLC, Alexander Construction, MSC Floors, Kitchen Tune-Up, Bedrock Kitchen and Bath, LLC, Stephenson Electric Co., Dyck Security Services, Dano’s Dumpsters, Cedar Hill Graphics, and Resolute Building Services LLC offered their support and helped BWARM open in time for Christmas.

Volunteers sort clothing in the dining room at Blue Water Area Rescue Mission.

“The Cornerstone Church asked me to come speak and after that, a lot of people from the church came to help. Operation Transformation helped out. A lot of churches purchased things we needed; sheets, pillows, clothing. We put an Amazon list together that’s on the Facebook page.”

A graduate of Marine City High School, Pettinger previously worked at Midland’s Open Door and says she felt called to return to her home community.

“There are not sufficient spaces for women either; the majority of my calls come from women,” Pettinger says. “Pathways has a waiting list a mile long. One of the fastest-growing homeless populations is single moms. A shelter for homeless women, mostly single moms, is the next thing to tackle. It really is.”

Essential care items await a guest at Blue Water Area Rescue Mission.Few people know the history of the Mission better than Bill (who prefers to be identified by his first name only), a former resident who is now on the executive board for BWARM.

A spry and sharp 82-years-young, Bill mentioned one regret on a frigid January night: that his doctor recently told him “No more shoveling snow.”

“I miss it,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve always enjoyed being outside.”

Perhaps 45 years in prison does that to a person.

After serving his time, a friend of Bill’s introduced him to the owners of the Mission and vouched for Bill’s intellect, easy-going manner, and experience. So for 14 years, Bill worked at the Mission.

“I lived here for two years,” Bill said. “I was the ‘Night Man,’ came in at 5. Helped with food, wash, and so on. At 10, it’d be lights out.”

In 2018, friends of Bill urged him to start enjoying life and get his own place, so he did. Two years later, Bill said that COVID-19 and other circumstances “shut the place down.”

During that time Bill still took care of the Mission, cutting the lawn and making sure everything inside was good as efforts began for someone else to take over the Mission. Eventually, Pettinger came into the picture and met Bill.

“I started telling Renee about this and that. Afterwards, she wanted me to be there,” he says. “I can relate to the homeless, the scams, the bull crap, because of being in prison.”

While in prison, Bill says his easy-going manner, intellect, and upbringing were recognized and valued.

“In high school, I was involved in a lot of sports,” he says. “So in prison with the recreation they have, I defused this or that situation. Umpired and refereed – I got sent to prisons all over the state to fix their recreation areas.”

Bill still has the same helpful fix-it attitude that is helping to support the new team running BWARM.

“I just want to help out a little,” he says. “I talk to Arnie and he’s thrilled with what they’re doing here.”

A closet at Blue Water Area Rescue Mission is filled with clothing and other essential items donated by members of the community.Gerald Krajniak, 22, a guest at BWARM, agrees with Bill.

“This place is nice,” he says. “A lot of people misinterpret homelessness. The mission here is to get people on their feet.”

Krajniak hopes to get back to work soon and says his stay at the Mission is temporary.

“We’re not powerless,” he says. “Persistence is the key.”

Fellow guest, Marc Taylor of Detroit, appreciates BWARM, calling it “a blessing.”

“So many people are in need of companionship,” Taylor says. “We’ve made some mistakes, but God helped us out with Miss Renee, and I take advantage of this place in a positive way, so we can help the next people. Port Huron has so much to offer. People from all over the country are in this place.”

All of the current workers are volunteers, but Pettinger says she hopes BWARM can raise enough money to hire staff and stay open in the spring and summer.

Blue Water Area Rescue Mission welcomes donations including gently used clothes, the time to prepare a meal, and a variety of other needs. For more information, visit or
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by John Lusk.

John Lusk taught composition and journalism at St. Clair County Community College level for over 30 years. Serving the Port Huron community and practicing the writing craft is his current focus. You may reach him at