By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Sue placed her purple knapsack on a round table at Humility of Mary Shelter and exclaimed to those around her, “It’s cold out there!” She and another shelter resident, Barrett, had just returned from a job-searching effort in Rock Island, Ill., a few miles away. It was Monday, Jan. 6, and the temperature outside was 15 degrees below zero with a wind chill factor that made it feel like 40 below zero.
Waiting at the bus stop for 15 minutes was no picnic, even though Sue, 54, had prepared for the brutal weather by wearing two coats, two shirts, and two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, insulated boots, hat and gloves. “I don’t think anything’s frost bit,” she said cheerfully. “My toes got cold; that was it. I wish I would have done three pairs of socks instead of two.”
But she’s not complaining. In fact, she expressed gratitude for having a warm place to stay at Humility of Mary Shelter, where she’s participating in a transitional housing program. She strives to maintain a positive attitude, she said, because the alternative — no place to stay — could be deadly.
“That’s all we’ve got, a positive attitude,” said Michael, another Humility of Mary Shelter resident participating in one of the shelter’s transitional housing programs. He chose not to venture outside on this dangerously cold Monday, even forgoing lunch at Café on Vine a short distance away. “That wind, I can’t stand that,” he said. Michael, 46, looks forward to the day when he can get back on his feet, living in his own apartment and holding a job. He’s getting help from the staff at Humility of Mary Shelter to work toward that goal.
The shelter has an 82-bed capacity, but anyone who needed protection from the harsh weather was welcome in the day room, said Program Director Cindi Gramenz. After the cold snap ends this week, the day room will be temporarily closed to the public for a construction project that needs to be completed. On Monday afternoon, however, the day room’s round tables had few empty chairs. “In our day room, we’re not as concerned about numbers at this time; we’re concerned about keeping people off the streets and out of the elements,” she added.
A Google search shows a list of 10 homeless shelters within a 35-mile radius of Davenport, including Rock Island and Moline in Illinois and Clinton and Muscatine in Iowa. Each has specific criteria and ground rules. Humility of Mary Shelter serves single men and single women ages 18 and older. “We’re not a ‘dry’ shelter, so we allow people to be here under the influence — as long as they maintain appropriate behavior,” Gramenz said.
Humility of Mary Housing Inc., founded by the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, came to the aid of the homeless population by re-opening a shelter in 2008 that had been forced to close. The Quad-City community has been financially supportive, but more funds are needed to keep the shelter going. The Sisters of Humility are engaged in a challenge grant to benefit Humility of Mary Shelter and say they need to raise $250,000 by April 30. The homeless are depending on it. Judith Clark, a shelter guest, begged a visitor for help, saying she had nowhere to go when she leaves the shelter next week.
Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation on the new evangelization, noted that the poor, in their difficulties, know the suffering Christ. “We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God shares with us through them” (EG no. 198).
Lonzio arrived at Humility of Mary Shelter a couple of weeks ago from central Illinois, in search of a job. The 31-year-old Chicago native got up Monday morning, eager to head out to a job site despite the bitter cold. “I took the bus from here about 6:40 a.m. and didn’t get there until 8 a.m. I took three buses,” he said. As it turns out, the job site hadn’t yet received Lonzio’s background check; an employee apologized and said she would call him as soon as the paperwork arrived. So Lonzio headed back toward the shelter, getting off at one of the bus stops to walk to an Iowa Job Service office. The walk just about killed him, he said. Even though his face was covered and he wore two pairs of gloves, he thought he might have frostbite on his right thumb. “It was brutal,” he said. “I felt like everything was going to fall off.”
But Lonzio also expressed optimism and gratitude. After completing online job applications, he had an interview lined up with another potential employer for the next day.
Thirty-year-old Sabrina lives in her own apartment, but “I come here during the day for someplace to go,” she said, sitting quietly at a table in the day shelter. She had walked about 10 blocks from her home because she had an appointment Monday with a shelter staff member who has been a big help to her. Although Sabrina was bundled up in long johns and other warm clothes, “it was so cold my eyes were tearing up,” she said.
Barrett, who’d taken the bus to and from Rock Island on Monday, had to take the hand warmers out of his gloves and put them in his socks. “It’s that cold.” But he accomplished what he needed to do: search for a job.
Sister Ludmilla Benda, RSM, who serves hungry people at Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope in Davenport on Sundays and holidays, marvels at the gratitude that many of the poor express for basic necessities and kindness.
This past Sunday, she didn’t have as many guests as usual, perhaps because people didn’t want to have to wait outside in the bitter cold to get into the small building where she serves breakfast and lunch. Because of the smaller crowd, no one had to wait outside. “I complain about the cold, but they don’t complain,” she said. “I think I’d be so angry. But they’re so grateful. They say, ‘thank you; thank you.’”
It takes a community to respond to needs of homeless people
Parishioners and parishes throughout the Davenport Diocese respond to the needs of homeless people in their communities, said Kent Ferris, director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Davenport.
Some years ago, Catholic and other church communities in Iowa City took turns hosting a night of overflow homeless people from a local shelter, after learning some homeless people were sleeping on rectory porches because they had nowhere else to go. That difficult situation inspired erection of a larger shelter to serve the homeless, Ferris said.
“The Shelter House in Iowa City is a community wide service, and I know that parishes in the Iowa City metro area support it and likely have parishioners who volunteer there,” he added.
Father John Spiegel, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, said the parish pays for two or three people a month to spend the night at a local motel if they have been turned away from the Shelter House because it was full. The shelter does not allow people who have been abusing substances to stay there.
St. Mary’s hasn’t had to assist anyone during the recent cold snap, but Fr. Spiegel supposes that is because the shelter isn’t turning away people during the dangerous cold snap.
St. Thomas More in Coralville takes a certain percentage of its Christmas collections to give twice a year to local agencies that serve people in need, including the homeless.
Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine takes up a monthly collection for the Muscatine Center for Strategic Action, which provides a homeless shelter in the old “Y” building downtown, said Ferris, a member of the Muscatine parish. “If push came to shove, the center would put cots out in the gymnasium.”
The parish also supports the Loaves and Fishes program, which helps fund the meal site at the center.
Such support is happening in other parishes within the 22-county diocese, Ferris noted.
“It’s quite likely we’re not the lead agency in responding to the needs of the homeless, but parishes financially and individually are active and involved in contributing to those ongoing efforts.
“We are so dependent on parishioners who are actively involved in the community to share that information with their social action committees or pastoral councils … if we identify an unmet need in any of the 22 counties we will raise the question of who will respond to this need,” Ferris continued.
“It requires a community wide effort; it’s not just Catholics, but other members of faith communities who have an obligation to respond based on the teachings of Jesus.”