By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Rodney Keenan speaks bluntly. The help he received from the newly merged housing organization, Humility Homes and Services, “saved my butt.”
Now the 52-year-old laborer rents an apartment from Humility Homes and Services above the Café on Vine meal site. The café is operated by a separate entity.
Keenan provided valuable input to a group tasked with choosing a name for the housing organization formed July 1 by the merger of Humility of Mary Shelter, Inc. and Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. Both nonprofit housing programs were founded by the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in response to unmet needs in the Quad Cities.
The sisters opened Humility of Mary Housing in 1990 to provide parents and their children housing stability so that they can pursue opportunities for growth and development. Humility of Mary Shelter opened in 2008 to replace an emergency shelter that had shut down. Services offered by both housing programs continue, as well as efforts to coordinate with other community partners to identify gaps in services for persons experiencing a homeless crisis.
Choosing a new name to reflect the organization’s mission proved challenging. “We have been working on a new name for a little over a year,” said John DeTaeye, the development director for Humility Homes and Services. “We wanted our new name to celebrate the work and commitment of the Sisters of Humility and at the same time a name reflecting a fresh start as a new, merged organization.”
Keenan’s comments were significant to the final decision. DeTaeye recalled Keenan’s comments during one of the discussions with MindFire Communications: “It really doesn’t matter what the name is as long as the services remain respectful and dignified. The main thing is to maintain the street credibility our organization has, that the people with Humility will treat you with respect and get you the help you need.”
Keenan believes the new name fits. It retains the name “Humility,” referring to the religious community that founded and continues to provide leadership and financial support, and acknowledges the housing organization’s commitment to finding solutions to homelessness.
“We want to sustain the confidence of the community in our values and our capacity to serve those experiencing homelessness in a moral, just, fair and excellent way,” noted Sister Johanna Rickl, CHM.
“The merger will strengthen our capacity to prevent homelessness and serve those experiencing homelessness in the Greater Quad-Cities area,” DeTaeye said. Centralization of administrative, financial and development functions will enhance Humility Homes and Services’ ability to respond to unmet needs in the community.
Lack of emergency shelter for families is among the unmet needs. “Too many people are living in hotels or in their cars or doubling or tripling up. We’ve set a goal to add 15 emergency beds for families”, DeTaeye said. Humility Homes and Services also looks to increase its supportive housing program for people “who need a little more support in order to live in their own apartment.” The organization hopes to implement those major goals within the next three years.
“It’s a new organization, certainly building on the past, but it has a new future ahead of us that needs to be explored and focused and defined and a whole part of it is all the interaction that needs to be fomented with multiple Quad-City partners,” Sr. Rickl said.
“We’re very committed to approaching the issue of homelessness in a broad, you might say, regional way. We realize that all of the entities need to work together, learn together and attend to the various needs. … No one group or person can address the whole spectrum of needs we find in relation to affordable housing and people experiencing homelessness,” she added.
Sr. Rickl commended CEO Emily Harvey and the rest of the staff “for the huge investment of time and energy and basic commitment to get the job done. They’ve had all of these other tasks to take care of while delivering services to people with us already.”
Humility Homes and Services owns or leases 93 supportive housing apartments and operates the area’s only low-barrier, emergency shelter for single adults. The shelter provides short-term housing for up to 70 adults each night. On any given day, 200 persons — including children, parents, single adults and veterans – can access personal hygiene products, household items, furniture, and clothes at the Fresh Start Donation Center.
Keenan never imagined as a child growing up in Massachusetts that he would struggle with homelessness as an adult. His dad owned a trucking firm; life was comfortable. “I was 22 and owned my own asphalt and seal-coating company in Florida,” Keenan said. But, “I made a lot of bad choices.” He got addicted to drugs, lost his business and his wife. He rebounded and started a nonprofit corporation for recovering addicts in Springfield, Ill., he said. But he became overwhelmed and started using drugs again. His second marriage failed.
He had a job when he moved to Davenport, but got laid off in the winter months and ran out of money. Someone at the city bus station told him about Humility of Mary Shelter. That’s where the beginning of Keenan’s journey toward recovery and self-sufficiency began. He’s had a great services coordinator and recognizes that many of the staff could be working in the private sector for more money. “They do this for the love of helping people.”
The process of merging Humility of Mary Housing and Humility of Mary Shelter began about three years ago. The Sisters of Humility will continue to serve in leadership positions on the board of the newly merged Humility Homes and Services, Inc.
In the discernment process for merging, the sisters, staff and others were inspired, in part, by the writing of retired Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay, Wis. In “Humility: 31 Reflections on Christian Virtues,” he wrote: “It is that habitual quality whereby we live in the truth of things: the truth that we are creatures and not the Creator; the truth that our life is a composite of good and evil, light and darkness; the truth that in our littleness we have been given extraordinary dignity … Humility is saying a radical ‘yes’ to the human condition.”
Reflecting on its mission, Humility Homes and Services has set these goals for completion by 2021:
• Have one culture with one program philosophy, one shared set of participants, one team, delivering a continuum of services, as measured by participant satisfaction and employee morale.
• Increase the number of permanent supportive housing units by 15.
• Develop 15 additional shelter beds for self-identified family members.
• Create a self-governing Participant Advisory Board.
The merger does not result in leadership changes, but changes in title: Emily Harvey, Chief Executive Officer; Christie Adamson, Chief Operating Officer; Rich Claiborne, Chief Financial Officer; Sandy Dimmer, Project Development Coordinator; and John DeTaeye, Director of Development.
Headquarters will remain at 3805 Mississippi Ave. in Davenport as will Fresh Start Donation Center. The emergency shelter and program offices continue to be located at 1016 W. 5th St., Davenport.