Tag Archives: homeless

When Kids Need A Safe Haven

When the police took five-year-old Bonita White from her apartment, she was more relieved than scared. Her drug-addicted mother had left her alone with an infant brother for a week. There was no father involved.

The two little ones were taken to Our Little Haven (OLH) in St. Louis, Missouri, a home for the youngest victims of abuse and neglect. “Everyone assured me that I would be okay, and I trusted them,” Bonita said. “I remember it was a delightful time. I had my first birthday party and Christmas there and went fishing for the first time. They were so loving!” Our Little Haven was home for Bonita and her brother for a couple of years until they transitioned back with their mother following her treatment for drug addiction. Things were better, although there would be other programs in their future as safety nets for a family headed by a mother with mental health and addiction problems. “My mother loved us the best she knew how, but she was sick,” Bonita explained.

Today, 28-year-old Bonita credits Our Little Haven with having had a major impact in her life. She has a degree in psychology with a social work emphasis, works with Head Start for early childhood intervention, and plans to attend graduate school in psychology next year. Her 23-year-old brother, Terrence, plans to graduate with degrees in mathematics and engineering next year.

Serving Children for 25 Years

It has been 25 years since Scott and Kathleen Hummel made the leap from their social work jobs to creating a program caring for young children from troubled families. Scott is now the executive director and Kathleen is the therapeutic director.

The couple met at Rockhurst University where they received undergraduate degrees and then earned masters in social work and received honorary doctor of philosophy in humanities degrees from St. Louis University. They both knew well the results of abuse and neglect during early childhood. Scott worked at a homeless shelter for families, and Kathleen worked with pre- adolescent girls having serious mental health problems.

“We noticed there was a significant similarity in the families we served that boiled down to a need for early intervention,” Kathleen said. “We wanted to help children from traumatic homes and not wait until they were 12 years old when so much damage has already been done.”

In the early 1990s in the St. Louis area, Scott said that not a lot of people were working with children from birth to 10 years old. The idea grew to create an early intervention program for children from abuse and neglect situations, to heal—mind, body, and soul—while living in a secure, loving environment. Since nothing existed like they envisioned, they created it themselves, establishing relationships with other social service agencies, recruiting a board of directors, hiring staff, finding office and residential treatment space, and securing funding. It was a five-year process from idea to reality. “We’d try to push it away and God in his awesomeness, kept pushing it to the forefront,” Scott said.

The Cookie Jar

Inspired by Dr. William Brennan, retired social work professor from St. Louis University, a cookie jar analogy became the inspiration for the Hummels. It goes like this: when we are born, we are all given a cookie jar. Throughout our formative years, we are given cookies in the form of good experiences and praise. Around the age of ten, the cookie jar is sealed up and that is what we have in life.

“When I was three years old, trauma was losing my red crayon,” Scott said. “We see children who have no cookies in their jar, who come from violence and neglect. For us, that is why we are doing this—to fill up their cookie jars. It’s a response to the gospel of caring for each other.”

Scott pointed out that programs such as OLH become opportunities for others to live out Jesus’ command that we love one another by giving through volunteering or donating to support their work. “It is our honor to invite people to participate,” Scott said. “We are invitational not expectational. If there’s any success, it’s because we are getting out of the way and letting God and the community help.”

By the Numbers

According to Scott, statistics indicate that without intervention, many of these kids end up dead or in prison. “Those are two options not consistent with the Gospel,” Scott said. “Had the community not helped children like Bonita, pulling her out of the cycle of abuse and neglect, we would have lost her God-given talents. That’s not God’s design for these young people.”

There are also pragmatic costs, he pointed out. “Longitudinal studies, from the child welfare to juvenile systems to the adult system, indicate that they will die at about age 62 — what kind of a life is that?” Scott asked. “And it costs about $1 million per person instead of putting that money into better schools and parks and highways.”

Our Little Haven (OurLittleHaven.org) helps around 600 kids and their families a year; either reunifying them or finding more suitable placement. In 25 years, 18,849 children have been helped. They are private, not-for-profit, partners with Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services to provide services which include a therapeutic preschool, a pediatric mental and behavioral health outpatient program, and the Taylor Family Care Center, which runs the foster-care program. The in- house residential program that was home to 25-40 children ended 10 years ago in favor of foster care.

The Hummels raised their own children alongside running OLH. Maggie, now 26, was born the same year OLH opened, Peter is 24, and Sarah 21. It was the pregnancy of their first child that pushed the Hummels to take the plunge. Kathleen either had to put in for maternity leave or let her boss know she would not be coming back. Scott had to resign from his position at the family shelter also. They took a deep breath and began at the cusp of their own beginning as new parents and have never looked back.

“We pray and rely on the community and continue to be grateful,” Kathleen said. “This has all been God’s doing.”

“There are frustrations at times, but then an alumnus like Bonita stops by,” Scott said. “I think God sends those people at just the right time.”

PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.

Down and out in America

Legates offer the poor a hand up in tough economic times

Robert Chisholm knows that helping the poor is part of his responsibility as a Catholic, but it’s not something he does out of a sense of duty.

“To me, lending my time, talent and treasure to an initiative of this type is really very natural,” said Chisholm, chairman of the board of Community Partnership for Homeless in Miami, Fla. “It is part of Church teaching, but I don’t give it a second thought. I just do it.”

The call to serve

Chisholm, an architect and member of the Miami Chapter, is one of several Legates involved in helping the poor and homeless — a population in the forefront of America’s consciousness during the current recession.

In Asbury Park, N.J., Joe Marmora serves as executive director of Interfaith Neighbors, which provides rent subsidies, meals-onwheels, food and heating assistance to the poor. In Tampa, Fla., Jeff Darrey works with Trinity Café, which serves a free restaurant-quality meal to some 200 people each weekday.

All three men have responded generously to the Lord’s call to help the destitute, implicit in both the Gospel and Catholic social teaching. In the 2001 document Living the Gospel of Life, the U.S. bishops said, “Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized” in areas such as poverty, hunger, employment and housing.

Many people — including Catholics — have come to expect the government to solve these problems. However, individuals can be more effective at bringing solutions to poverty, said Joseph Varacalli, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Nassau Community College.

“The Catholic response to those in a state of poverty must not be merely in terms of government and bureaucratic programs — which can be cold, abstract and even, in certain cases, counterproductive — but also in terms of individual charitable efforts, the latter with its more necessarily human face,” he said.

Indeed, Legatus members who work with homeless and other poverty-stricken people say treating them with dignity is a hallmark of their programs. “We approach people with a lot of respect, a lot of love and providing hope,” Chisholm said. In fact, Chisholm puts his architectural skills to good use by designing CPH buildings so they more closely resemble houses rather than institutional buildings.

“Sometimes people of the streets who are in such dire straits just need somebody to treat them with love, kindness and dignity,” added Darrey, cofounder of Trinity Café and CEO of Marketing Associates/USA, Inc. “That’s what we provide at Trinity Café. Over and over again we see the difference it makes in people’s lives and the softness on people’s faces when they leave compared to when they come in.”

A hand up

However, homeless advocates know that it’s not enough just to be caring and provide people with food or a place to sleep.

Programs like the Community Partnership seek to help the poor make changes in their lives that will keep them off the streets. From its inception in 1995, Chisholm said, CPH wanted to offer a continuum of care and real hope.

Finding the root cause of someone’s homelessness, hunger or poverty can be challenging, he said. “Many people are unable to cope with life. We offer all the help in the world, but we also teach them that there are responsibilities and consequences to everything you do in life. If they want to be helped, we help get them back on their feet with a lot of love and respect, but also a lot of discipline.”

Since Community Partnership’s beginnings, about 61% of residents in its two homeless assistance centers have made the move toward selfsufficiency, meaning they were able to leave the facility, get a job and function in society.

“We certainly don’t believe in anyone having a free ride in life,” Chisholm said. “We want people to be valuable, contributing members of society within their capabilities, be able to provide for themselves or their family and lead a responsible life within the minimum parameters.”

Chisholm said the average stay in one of the partnership’s centers is 45 days. In addition to food and temporary shelter, the centers offer case management, health and child care and job training. CPH is funded by a 1% sales tax on food and beverages sold at certain restaurants in Miami-Dade County and donations from charitable foundations, corporations and individuals.

Priority issues

Those who work with the poor and homeless regularly encounter skepticism about whether those they help are truly needy. Marmora, who was working in real estate when he helped start Interfaith Neighbors in Asbury Park more than 20 years ago, said he often hears from well-to-do friends that the poor are lazy and simply don’t want to work.

“We minister to the working poor,” he said. “They’re just families that live on the edge. They are unskilled, make minimum wages and can’t afford the high rents they have to pay. So they struggle whenever they get too far behind, and we kind of lift them up and keep the family together.”

Although Catholics are called to feed the hungry and house the homeless, Church teaching makes it clear that such work is not to be at the expense of more serious issues like abortion.

In Living the Gospel of Life, the bishops write that if the human person is the “temple of the Holy Spirit” or the “living house of God,” then issues such as racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and healthcare form the crossbeams and walls of the structure while attacks on innocent human life — such as abortion and euthanasia — strike at the foundation. “Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand,” the document says.

In a similar vein, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput warns against looking at Catholic social doctrine as the Church’s sole mission in his new book Render Unto Caesar. “The Catholic faith is much more than just another public philosophy or useful set of social programs. The Church is not an association of social workers. She is a community of believers and disciples. In fact, the Church’s social service has no meaning outside her Christcentered faith.”

Trinity Café’s Jeff Darrey says all the social issues work together and deserve his attention. For example, if he serves a meal to a hungry woman and learns she is in a crisis pregnancy, he would refer her to a pregnancy center for help in carrying her child to term. Five years ago, he and his wife Sharon supported an 18- month-long billboard campaign directing abortion-minded women to a pregnancy center.

“It’s not an issue of either/or,” Darrey said. “This is what we’re called to do. This is the whole purpose. This is why I care.”

Judy Roberts is a freelance writer based in Graytown, Ohio.


Corporal Works of Mercy

Feed the hungry

Give drink to the thirsty

Clothe the naked

Shelter the homeless

Visit the sick

Visit those in prison

Bury the dead