Pope Francis Center: serving those who are homeless in Detroit

Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus. This translates as “We hope for better things; It shall arise from the ashes.” The phrase is the official motto of Detroit, Michigan, and has been particularly appropriate for a city that has experienced dramatic fluctuations in fortune. In 1990, after decades of economic decline, the pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Jesuit Church in Detroit helped the city “arise from the ashes” by beginning a ministry for the city’s homeless. The parish operated a small Warming Center for the next 25 years, relying on parishioners to volunteer and donate food.

In 2013, the Center was expanded to include an industrial kitchen, showers, and laundry facilities. In 2015, Fr. Timothy McCabe, SJ, became the Executive Director of the Warming Center. He changed the name to the Pope Francis Center to honor the pope’s passionate commitment to the homeless. Through generous donations from individuals and corporations, Fr. McCabe has been able to expand the Center’s services dramatically. It is now open six days a week and provides two nutritious meals each day. Guests can meet with social workers, lawyers, medical professionals, foot care professionals, barbers, and bike repair specialists each week.

The Center also provides flu and hepatitis shots, periodic dental and vision clinics, housing support, and medical education. When Fr. McCabe assumed leadership of the Center it served 60-70 people each day. Today, the Center serves an average of 175 people daily. The staff and volunteers focus on building relationships with guests by recognizing each person’s inherent dignity and value. Fr. McCabe stresses the idea that there is no “us” and “them” - there is only “us.” Men and women who are experiencing homelessness often describe a sense of invisibility. People literally and figuratively walk over them as they rush past. However, once guests enter the Pope Francis Center, they are greeted warmly and recognized as beloved children of God. The Center’s staff meet each person where they are and let guests share their stories on their own timeline.

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As Fr. McCabe and his staff listened to these stories, they realized that there is a gap in services for the homeless in Detroit. Most of the Center’s guests are chronically homeless, which means that they have been homeless for more than a year or have experienced multiple episodes of homelessness within the past few years, while struggling with a disabling condition such as serious mental health issues, substance use disorder, or physical disability. It is particularly difficult to help this group move from the streets to permanent housing, and the city is not prepared to effectively address their needs.

In addition, Detroit has recently experienced a dramatic economic turnaround. Businesses and people are moving downtown rapidly and the city is thriving. Sadly, the economic boom has not trickled down to every level of society. As a result, the city’s chronically homeless population is being pushed away from the city center. The stark economic disparity is striking as we continue to try to answer the pope’s call to care generously for the marginalized. According to Fr. McCabe, “Detroit is coming back, and it’s up to us, as Jesuits, to make sure that no one gets left behind.”

To address this need, and after intense research and visits to effective service providers in other cities, Fr. McCabe is planning to open a 40-unit Bridge Housing facility in Detroit. The shelter will use a “Housing First” approach and will provide guests with short-term (90-120 days) shelter along with complete medical, respite, psychological, addiction, social, and job-training services. The goal of the program is to help the chronically homeless prepare to move from doorways and overpasses into permanent supportive housing.

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The campus will include an innovative outdoor shelter for guests who are not ready or able to come inside due to trauma or mental health issues. Because of the city’s cold climate, the outdoor shelter area will feature heated cement floors and radiant heaters overhead. The campus will also include a medical clinic, medical respite beds, a gymnasium, and an urban farm. The facility will be a collaborative effort between the existing Pope Francis Center, the city, other local service providers, and members of the surrounding community. While the chronically homeless often have difficulty trusting people, Fr. McCabe is confident that the relationships that have begun at the Pope Francis Center will make it easier for guests to transition to the new campus.

Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus. “We hope for better things; It shall arise from the ashes.” People who experience chronic homelessness know a lot about living among the “ashes.” The Pope Francis Center and its new Bridge Housing facility are providing them with an opportunity to “hope for better things.”

[Article from "Jesuits - The Society of Jesus in the world - 2020"]

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles public relations.

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