In 1893, William V. Wheeler, a sales manager for the hardware firm of Layman and Carey, opened an unpretentious mission in a small room on South Street. In 1905, it was incorporated as the Rescue Mission and Home of Indianapolis. Wheeler’s name was not used until after his death in 1908.
In 1918, the Wheeler Mission and the City Mission on East Washington Street formed the Wheeler City Rescue Mission and, shortly after, moved to the old Empire Theater on Wabash Street. In 1922, it moved to its present site at 245 North Delaware where its present building, considered one of the best-equipped mission buildings in America, was completed in 1929.
In 1968, Wheeler City Rescue Mission was renamed and reincorporated as Wheeler Rescue Mission, Inc., and in 1990 it was renamed Wheeler Mission Ministries, Inc.
From the 1930s to the early 2000s, the mission’s services included a men’s shelter, free meals and medical care, a “dime” store with donated items, programs for youths of all ages, a mothers’ club, and discretionary financial assistance. It also operated a 240-acre camp for families and youths and a home for girls (13-18) with a history of abuse.
While in the past, Wheeler had provided religious programs for youth and their families in addition to its work with homeless men, Wheeler Mission’s primary focus is now serving homeless men, women, and children. Wheeler refitted a building located at 3208 East Michigan Street, which once was a hotel, to serve women and children.
The organization also has expanded its services by merging with several other missions. It expanded its outreach to homeless men by merging within 2006. It took over the operations of Backstreet Missions in Bloomington, Indiana in 2015. Wheeler Mission served 366,393 meals and provided 253,717 nights of shelter in 2018. Additionally, the mission provides medical care, counseling, casework, and long-term job training and rehabilitation services.
In 2021, Wheeler opened new additions to its Center for Women and Children on East Michigan Street. The updated and expanded facility more than doubled the shelter’s capacity. The original building has been renovated to house long-term residents enrolled in addiction recovery and other programming designed to help women find jobs and eventually to live independently. Expansions and improvements allowed for an emergency shelter with shared family spaces, child care and learning areas, an outdoor and indoor playground, a basketball court, an amphitheater, office space for partnering service providers, and a health clinic.
As a non-denominational, Christian mission, Wheeler bases its recovery programs promoting spiritual as well as physical change. The mission’s camp near Bloomington now hosts an addiction recovery program for men. The mission’s annual budget comes from private donations as well as its thrift store in Indianapolis and wood pallet enterprise near Bloomington.