In Your Midst

SEEKING AND SERVING THE INVISIBLE HOMELESS

Fall 2000

In This Issue:
Despite our region’s recent economic success, homelessness in our city remains a persistent, complex and difficult problem. Some aspects of homelessness are very visible to all of us. But for every homeless person we see on the street, there are hundreds more who may be invisible to us. At St. James Cathedral, we sponsor and work with programs that seek to address the issues related to homelessness in a variety of ways. Some of these programs may be familiar, and some may be more or less invisible to you. Some programs seek to prevent homelessness, some work with people living on the street or in shelters, and some assist people to make that final step back into a home of their own. But all of these programs come from the same motivation — to see the face of Christ in the face of a person in need.

St. James Winter Shelter. Perhaps one of the more visible programs is the St. James Winter Shelter. Now in its tenth year of operation, the St. James Winter Shelter operates four nights a week during the winter months, providing overflow capacity for the St. Martin de Porres Shelter. St. Martin’s, which is operated by the Archdiocesan Housing Authority, serves homeless men over the age of 50. St. Martin’s is housed in a Coast Guard warehouse on Alaskan Way, and is large enough to house 212 men per night. But large as it is, it’s not big enough to serve all the men who qualify to stay there. St. James is one of five churches that provide space for ten to fifteen men who would otherwise be turned away from St. Martin’s. Approximately 80 parishioners are involved in operating the St. James Winter Shelter, many returning year after year. Volunteers pick up the men at St. Martin’s about 8:00 pm each night, set up Cathedral Hall with mats on the floor and coffee and snacks for the men, and then spend the night with the men there. Early the next morning, additional volunteers arrive with food and make a hot breakfast for the men, perhaps their only hot meal for the day. According to Marge Barrett, the Food Volunteer Coordinator for the St. Martin’s shelter, the men who come to St. James not only appreciate having a place to sleep and a good meal, but also the opportunity to interact with our parishioners and to have a momentary break from the subculture of poverty.

Sandwiches for St. Martin’s Shelter. Another way in which St. James supports the St. Martin’s shelter is through the Sandwiches for St. Martin’s ministry. St. Martin’s feeds approximately 275 to 300 men per night, but their facility does not have room for a full kitchen to make hot meals. They rely on volunteers to bring in sandwiches. On the first Monday of each month, St. James volunteers provide and serve 500 to 800 sandwiches, along with 20 dozen hardboiled eggs (donated by one volunteer), 20 gallons of milk (also donated by one volunteer), cookies, and fruit. The Sandwiches for St. Martin’s program started ten years ago with just ten volunteers, and now has approximately 100 who contribute each month. Katie Doyle, who coordinates this program, echoes a theme common among volunteers who work with the homeless: “The men give me so much more than I could possibly give them. These are men with feelings and a story just like everyone else, and they deserve any help and love we can give them. I am truly blessed to be able to do this ministry.”

Operation Nightwatch. Operation Nightwatch may be less well-known to the average St. James parishioner, because the work done by St. James volunteers with this program takes place off our premises. St. James actively supports the work of Operation Nightwatch every first and third Tuesday night. The number of parishioners involved ranges from 70 to 100 through the year. Operation Nightwatch originated in Protestant communities, but has always been ecumenical in its welcoming the help of people of many faiths. On the first and third Tuesday St. James provides forty or more parishioners making sandwiches, fifteen to twenty people at prayer in the chapel of the Christian Brothers at O’Dea High School, eight people walking the streets from Pioneer Square to Belltown to Broadway, and about a dozen who help attend to those who come to 14th and Main hoping for help in finding shelter. Nightwatch ministers also pay a visit to the St. Martin de Porres Shelter. “Nightwatch Tuesdays” begin about 7:30 PM and usually end around midnight. Operation Nightwatch helps 100 or more people every night of the year.

Lazarus Day Center. Lazarus Day Center, located on Second Avenue near the Smith Tower, is a daytime drop-in center for homeless adults, operated by the Archdiocesan Housing Authority. One of the services the Center provides is a clothing bank. Every Monday and Thursday, St. James parishioners staff the clothing room. This ministry is directed at both men and women, and involves the quiet but demanding work of sizing, folding and shelving donated clothing, as well as the interactive work of distributing clothes to those in need. Parishioners also get involved in hospitality, kitchen work and caring presence. Lazarus Day Center serves some 200 to 300 people every day of the week.

The Homelessness Project. Another relatively invisible program is the Homelessness Project, a program sponsored by the Church Council of Greater Seattle. Over the past several years, various St. James parishioners have provided rental properties at below-market rent, and other parishioners have helped to maintain and furnish these properties. Families who live in these transitional housing units receive the support of a case manager to help with job skills and other training to enable them to move into permanent housing. We are currently working in partnership with St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish to provide transitional housing for a refugee Somali family, and are looking for additional properties to provide even more transitional housing.

Other Programs. Two other important programs at St. James come to mind when thinking about outreach to the homeless – the Family Kitchen and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The Family Kitchen, which is operated by the Catholic Worker Group here at St. James, is now in its twenty-fifth year of operation. It provides free meals Monday through Friday to women, families, and men over 55, and many of its guests are homeless persons living in shelters. Ten to fifteen volunteers prepare and serve a meal for approximately 125 people per day. “The important thing about us is our first name — family,” says Kathleen O’Hanlon, director of the Family Kitchen, emphasizing the importance of breaking down barriers and building community among the guests and the volunteers in the program.

In some ways, the St. Vincent de Paul Society can be thought of as a homelessness-prevention program. According to Jeanne Murray, a longtime Vincentian, rent assistance is the largest expense for the St. Vincent de Paul budget. For people earning only the minimum wage, rent constitutes an extraordinarily large percentage of their monthly budget. If an emergency arises, a family may find itself unable to pay full rent and may face eviction. By being able to provide emergency rent assistance and other kinds of assistance, the St. Vincent de Paul Society can help to keep people facing emergencies from having their problems compounded by becoming homeless.

New Ventures. As you can see, the parishioners of St. James Cathedral are responding in great numbers to the problem of homelessness. But we cannot be content with these efforts, because the ongoing need is so great. We are currently in the process of developing two new ways in which to serve the homeless. One is a new team being created to bring a meal once a month to Noel House, a women’s shelter operated by the Archdiocesan Housing Authority in Belltown. We have also begun accepting donations for the Hunthausen Fund, a program created by the Cathedral Development Committee to provide interest-free loans for people moving from shelters or transitional housing into market-rate housing. With average rents of $800 per month in the Seattle area, the initial move-in costs of first and last month’s rent and security deposit could exceed $2,000 – a very large sum to save, large enough to keep families in shelters and transitional housing much longer than necessary. The loan fund will allow families to make that important move into their own homes much sooner.

The problem of homelessness is large and complex, but every day St. James volunteers give of themselves, in visible and sometimes less visible ways, to relieve some of the burden of homelessness and to live out the Christian call to serve others. We are grateful for all of their very generous and loving work, and we welcome anyone who is interested into this important and rewarding ministry. For further information about Operation Nightwatch or Lazarus Day Center, please contact Deacon Joe Curtis at 206/523-1050. For information on any of the other programs described, please contact Patty Bowman at 206/382-4515.

Patty Bowman is the Minister for Social Outreach.


Back To In Your Midst Page