Catholic Charities Helps Homeless

Father John Estrem, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, granted me an interview with him on September 28, 2005. We talked about the accommodation of disabled people who seek shelter as well as those with a disability who work for Catholic Charities. Some of the people who’ve received help through either the shelters or social services wind up working for Catholic Charities. Father John stated, this organization “relies on the skill and talent of college educated social workers as well as former clients who have the knowledge of this and other agencies.” My interview turned out to be a far more complex project than what I expected it to be. There are so many important parts to this story. And I cannot do justice to all of them in one article. I believe the complexity has to do with changes in funding sources, and the work load has stretched the energy level of the staff to their limits. The ratio of staff to resident varies from place to place. The level of support service(s) is partly based on internal and/or external resources by personnel or access and accommodation. Catholic Charities operates under a budget of thirty-three million dollars which may seem like a lot of money. But I was impressed with staff commitment to such a heavy work load with insufficient funds. The struggle, I believe, is between the good will and hard work of the staff; the need for accommodation that will allow for total access at every level for disabled staff and residents, and the transition away from a traditional model to one that is all inclusive to a diverse population of people. I think it is ironic that a program, like that of Catholic Charities, which provides such an important function in our city, doesn’t get more financial support.

According to Father John, Catholic Charities does accommodate disabled residents of the shelter as well as disabled employees because it is “required by law, and also” because we think it is the right thing to do. We’re a Faith Based Social Service Organization . . . we’re related to the Catholic Church,” but “Our mission says we serve those who are most in need. We don’t really provide religious services. We provide Social Services,” said Father John. “We are faith-based in the sense that our mission is based on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and we are affiliated with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This does not mean that we proselytize others or overtly display our spiritual and religious beliefs in all of our services. If clients do ask for spiritual guidance, we respond and we have a pastoral care program that does that. With respect to the government’s faith based initiative, we have seen very little impact from that initiative. We have always received government funds to help support our services and we anticipate continuing to do so.” (Ron Krietemeyer, Director for Mission Integration, Catholic Charities, Minneapolis/St. Paul).

I wondered how Catholic Charities would meet the accommodation needs of people in the midst of dwindling governmental financial support. “The cost of the reasonable accommodation would be a factor in the choice of the accommodation,” said Father John. “There have been cuts at every level…the federal level, state level and county level.” We deliver most of our services through counties. So if somebody with a disability needed some form of accommodation, then it appears the county would assign a person to work with that disabled homeless person. Father John told me that few blind people and people who use wheelchairs seek shelter in any of the housing programs administered by Catholic Charities. If a homeless blind person or a homeless person in a wheelchair request shelter at a Catholic Charities designated shelter, that person would be referred to the county which is in a better position to find them housing and services that accommodate their needs. Most of the people who receive services through Catholic Charities are people with a wide range of mental health issues.

It may seem obvious that a decision for accommodation will be made by or for a disabled homeless person or a disabled employee. And when such a decision is made, it is based on who needs the accommodation. That individual’s decision is based on the availability of finances, resources and his or her knowledge of an appropriate accommodation to fit a particular need. But a disability can change over time. And the type of medication somebody takes can also change over time. Both of these factors need to be added to the changes in financial resources, changes in adaptive equipment for a wide range of disabilities, as well as changes in staff and staff support.

The person who needs the support may not have read nor had the time to read everything pertinent to his or her disability. Some disabled shelter residents may not be fully aware of his or her rights and need for such accommodation. Some shelter residents work even though they may not have a permanent residence. In order to get from one place to the next, most of us use the Metropolitan bus service. It is realistic to believe any loss in bus service, temporary or long term, will have a profound effect on those of us who are disabled or who are disabled and homeless. Our elected officials do not always demonstrate the sensitivity and/or awareness of the value behind public transportation. For example, in 2004, Governor Pawlenty stated the only people who use buses are poor people and the disabled. So if another strike occurs, then homeless people who don’t have a license or employed disabled people who don’t drive would have to walk a potentially long distance, regardless of the extreme heat or cold for the duration of such a Metropolitan wide transportation strike.

Catholic Charities does not keep track of homeless people, disabled or otherwise, once that person is no longer on campus. “When our clients leave our program sites, they are no longer our responsibility. In the same way that a person who leaves a hardware store or a public building is no longer the responsibility of the site, so too, when our clients step outside on the sidewalk, they are no longer our responsibility. Nor do we have the staff to assist clients outside of our program sites.” (Ron Krietemeyer, Director for Mission Integration, Catholic Charities, Minneapolis/St. Paul).

Tracy Bergland, Catholic Charities Housing Administrator for Minneapolis and Saint Paul, sent me the following details which illustrate some of the ways the budget is spread around.

There are approximately 500 shelter beds:

• Secure Waiting in Minneapolis services 251 men,

• Dorothy Day Center (DDC) in St. Paul serves anywhere from 150 – 220 men and women,

• Mary Hall has 20 shelter beds for men, the Family Service Center has 55 beds for families and single women and Hope Street Shelter has 17 beds for youth.

In addition we have 600 units of housing. In Minneapolis there are four housing programs:

• Residential Structured Housing has 49 transitional units for homeless singles who have mental health and chemical dependency issues.

• The Evergreen: 88 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless men and women.

• Exodus Hotel: 93 transitional units for homeless men and women.

• The Glenwood: 80 units of permanent housing for men who are chronic alcoholics.

In St. Paul:

Mary Hall provides 155 units of housing for single adults. There are three different programs within the building. A 40 bed transitional program serves the severely mentally ill who are discharged from inpatient programs, or who may be staying at the Dorothy Day Extended Hours Program. We have another 40 unit transitional program for homeless men and women who are low-income and may have mental health and chemical dependency issues.

• The Single Room Occupancy Program provides 75 units of permanent housing for single adults.

• St. Anthony provides 55 units of permanent housing for chronic alcoholic men.

• St. Christopher Place provides 70 units of permanent housing for low-income men and women.

• Visitation Place provides 15 units of permanent housing to low-income families.

If you know of somebody who is disabled, homeless and who is looking for shelter, contact one of the resources stated below. Volunteers are also needed to assist with these programs.

Resources

Catholic Charities, 612-664-8500, 1200 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55403

Hennepin County Human Services, Century Plaza, 330 South 12th Street. Call 612-596-1300 between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm, or call 612-348-3007. Leave your name, Social Security number, case number, and somebody will call you back.

StreetWorks, 2222 Park Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55404, Street-based outreach to homeless youth, 612-252-2735.

Wesley United Methodist Church, 612-871-3585. Wesley United Methodist Church provides a Saturday Meals program. There are a variety of Twelve-step programs throughout the week. The address is 101 E Grant St, Minneapolis, MN 55403. Wesley Church is next to the Minneapolis Convention Center.