For The Dialog
Annual Catholic Appeal helps support diocesan ministries for homeless young mothers and for the jobless
Neither Kelly Adams nor Arden Johnson ever imagined they would become homeless until each of their lives unraveled, about a decade apart.
Adams, 25, had studied at Delaware Tech in Dover, with the hope of becoming a nurse, when her financial aid ran out. She had a job and her own place to live until she lost her job last June and later her residence. She started living with friends and relatives on a rotating basis. Later that summer she learned she was pregnant.
Now Adams is at Bayard House, a Wilmington residence for pregnant women with nowhere to go. The facility strives to not only help a woman through her pregnancy but to become self-sufficient for herself and her child.
Johnson, 64, had had a successful real estate career when, some 10 years ago, he earned a significant amount of money in a Sussex County land development project. Then, “I got greedy,” he said.
He pulled out of other investments to put everything into other development projects. But starting in 2006, “the market went south and I got clobbered. I lost everything.”
Johnson became homeless, jobless and hopeless. That began to change when he discovered Casa San Francisco in Milton, where he stayed twice, in 2012 and again in 2013.
“They give you a chance to hope again,” Johnson said.
Bayard House and Casa San Francisco are among Catholic Charities programs funded in part by the Annual Catholic Appeal. Catholic Charities is one of more than 35 Diocese of Wilmington offices and ministries in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore supported by the appeal.
Appeal leaders hope to raise $4,434,000 this year. Commitment Weekend, when Catholics in the pew will be asked to make donations or pledges to the appeal, will be April 9-10.
“Blessed are the Merciful, for They Shall Obtain Mercy” is theme for this year’s appeal. It’s taken from Pope Francis’ proclamation of the Holy Year of Mercy being observed this year.
The work of Bayard House and Casa San Francisco directly tie into that theme since each provides shelter for the homeless, one of the corporal works of mercy, and give counsel to the doubtful, one of the spiritual works of mercy. Each also operates food programs that meet another of the corporal works, feeding the hungry.
Bayard House was a temporary home for 40 women last year, while Casa San Francisco housed 116 residents.
Both programs strive to do more than simply provide “three hots and a cot,” as Melinda Woolf, Casa San Francisco’s program manager, put it. Both seek to help clients become self-sufficient.
Casa San Francisco’s residents include men and women, young and old, skilled and unskilled. Woolf said some of the younger clients have been raised in foster care and have not learned basic individual living skills, such as budgeting, bill paying, and meal planning, in addition to possibly needing help with work skills and job seeking. Some clients’ skills are no longer in demand and they have to learn new ones for today’s workplace. Some older clients in their 60s have lost jobs, sometimes because of cutbacks or because of health concerns, and are waiting to become eligible for Social Security and Medicare.
Meeting crises in their lives
“Our goal is to help people become independent” during a 30-day stay, said Woolf, who has been at Casa San Francisco for four years. “We see the person holistically and help them meet the crises in their lives.”
Not everyone will succeed, and some may require structured living environments because of medical or mental health needs, Woolf said. Even those who succeed may need to return for a second stay during temporary setbacks, as Johnson did.
When he first arrived, Johnson said, “I wasn’t just broke; I was broken.” He learned that, except for one very good friend, few of his former associates were around to help. “Eric Clapton said it best,” he said, noting Clapton’s song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”
But the staff at Casa San Francisco wanted to help him. They urged Johnson to develop a plan, using his own skills, to get back on track.
“They expect you to use your talents,” he said. “You have to put out an effort and you have to be the one to work to make it happen. That’s what they tell you.”
Johnson said he plans to make back, within seven years, all the money he lost during the recession of 2007-2009. He realizes he’s more fortunate than many of Casa San Francisco’s clients. “I have a skill set that, with the [improved] market, allows me to do things others might not be able to do.”
Last Thanksgiving, he took a step toward repaying Casa San Francisco. He and a friend who had stayed with him from his success in the early 2000s through the depths of his fall prepared a homemade Thanksgiving dinner for residents. He also has hired, at least on a temporary basis, some clients for work on his projects, and has given talks on behalf of Casa San Francisco.
Home for mother and child
At Bayard House, residents have three common traits, said program manager Kim Ellis: “They are pregnant, they are homeless, and they all have decided to carry their babies to term and to deliver them.”
Outside of that there is no typical resident. Some may have other young children who can stay with them, a change in 2014 from the previous rule that only pregnant women or women who had just given birth could be residents. Some have few if any life skills; some need education and job skills. Some if not all need mothering skills.
“I look at this program as a way to end homelessness, not just for one generation but for two – the mother and her baby – as well as giving this woman and unborn child a chance at a successful life,” Ellis said. “In short, it will be building healthy families.”
That outlook was something Adams sought when looking for a shelter during her pregnancy.
“I wanted to find a program that would help out more, point me in the right direction, and I found Bayard House,” she said. “It’s a lot when you’re trying to get on your feet and you have a baby on the way.”
She came to Bayard House in January and is now in her third trimester of pregnancy. She volunteers 20 hours a week at the Catholic Charities Thrift Store in Wilmington.
Bayard House expects her “to do it by yourself,” she said, but they are there to provide support. “They give you the tools.”
Those tools include education. This month Adams begins training to become a certified nursing assistant. That will help Adams become self-sufficient, a step toward her goal for herself and her family, she said.
“I’m going to go back to school to become a nurse after getting some experience as a CNA.”