Last fall, after Catholic Charities CEO Tim Marx wrote an article in the StarTribune documenting the overcrowding at the Dorothy Day Center, a group of men from St. John Neumann parish in Eagan responded by offering to staff overnight the old offices of Catholic Charities in St. Paul (which we refer to as the Annex) so that no one had to be turned away.
The Catholic Spirit reported on those initial efforts in an article (Nov. 23, 2011). Six months later, we are concluding our efforts since demand for shelter space for the summer is no longer expected to exceed the capacity at Dorothy Day.
That small band of men from St. John Neumann has now grown into more than 60 from a dozen parishes across the archdiocese — men who gave one, two or, in some cases, three nights a month to serve those whom Christ loves the most. Two volunteers arrived each evening at 7 p.m., checking in those for whom there was no space at the DDC, served them a snack, listened to their stories, their hopes and their dreams, and then bedded down with them for the night. At 6 a.m. the following morning, everyone was up, did the morning housekeeping chores before Catholic Charities staff arrived and were on their way by 7 a.m.
We didn’t change the world. We didn’t eliminate homelessness. But we were able to speak about hope and dignity and love.
We saw dozens of men find permanent, affordable housing and jobs. We saw men re-enter the educational system in preparation for careers in carpentry, emergency medical care and building maintenance. We saw men with a renewed desire to break out of the poverty they had thought was permanent.
What did we get? New friends. New appreciation for all we have. New understanding of what it means to be brothers in Christ.
We got so much more than we ever gave.
While politicians struggle with how to pay for a new billion-dollar football stadium, we’ll struggle with plans for fall when the need for shelter space is expected to be even greater, forcing more men onto the street. And, we’ll do our best to try and provide space so that need not happen. Because they are our brothers. They are our friends.
Hawkins is a member of St. John Neumann in Eagan and the Order of Malta, a lay religious order of the Catholic Church that, for more than 900 years, has lived out its call to “serve the poor and defend the faith.” Men interested in learning more about volunteering at the overflow shelter may contact Hawkins at email@example.com.