Tippy Atkins stood at the corner of East 22nd Street and Craycroft Road with her only possession, a crack pipe.

The mother of six had nowhere to go.

Atkins, now 47, has since turned her life around. She went back to school and is working for a local behavioral health agency.

She credits her life change to the Gospel Rescue Mission, which took her in and never asked her to get a job or pay rent. The staff there just wanted her to get better.

Women and children have been filling up the Gospel Rescue Mission's shelters and transitional housing faster than they can build.

The Arizona Daily Star begins a series on poverty today that includes an interview with a young woman living in a 19,200 square-foot motel on Miracle Mile that the Gospel Rescue Mission refurbished in 2009.

Some longtime Tucsonans may be surprised that the organization has programs for women. It has long been associated with men, going back to 1953 when the Christian ministry began supporting homeless men who were riding the Southern Pacific Railroad in and out of Tucson.

But during the early1990s, law enforcement began bringing homeless women to the Gospel Rescue Mission shelters. Many of them had children in tow. They were homeless for a number of reasons, but among the common factors were domestic violence, drugs, alcohol, mental health issues and women who had just been released from jail, said Pastor Roy Tullgren, Gospel Rescue Mission executive director.

By 1992, leaders had built their first shelter for women and children.

"It's more than just a shelter: It's a program with classes on life skills such as anger management, boundaries and parenting," Tullgren said.

The men's shelter holds 101 people. The women and children's shelter holds 75. There is a waiting list of up to 25 women and children every day.

"We could have easily built something four times as big," Tullgren said, standing outside the motel one recent day. "We are seeing more younger people in their early 20s. It used to be 35 to 65."

The women can stay up to 90 days to get stable and then go into a six-month recovery program. There's no cost to the women. There's also transitional housing for women entering the workforce or going back to school.

The ministry operates on donations. The motel project cost $3 million.

The Gospel Rescue Mission is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.