By Barb Arland-Fye
and Elizabeth Starr
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Humility Homes and Services Inc. (HHSI) welcomed Ashley Velez, its new executive director, during an open house and barbecue earlier this month at the social service agency’s headquarters.
You might call it a homecoming because Velez previously worked for Humility of Mary Shelter Inc., which along with Humility of Mary Housing Inc., combined last year to form HHSI. The agency provides housing programs, services and advocacy to increase housing opportunities and to end homelessness in the Quad Cities.
As burgers and hot dogs roasted on the grill, Sister Johanna Rickl, CHM, who chairs the HHSI Board, prayed: “Gracious and good God, we praise and thank you for the many blessings poured upon Humility Homes and Services — our staff, our partners and friends, the many individuals and families we serve and who work for fair and affordable housing in our Quad-Cities area.”
“Today we thank you especially for Ashley Velez, our HHSI executive director, as she continues to strengthen the web of relationships that encourages generous community members to share expertise, time and resources in response to challenges faced by sisters and brothers in our community who experience homelessness….”
In an earlier press release, Sr. Rickl expressed excitement that “Ashley is coming home to HHSI.” She worked at the shelter in its early days and “believes in our commitment to end homelessness.” Her experience as a social worker, with a background in public administration and management leadership skills, “will help us move forward in fulfilling the vision of creating a home for every person.”
Velez has worked for 11 years with individuals experiencing homelessness, with a specialty in the field of trauma and violence. A Quad-City native, she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. She began her career as a case worker in September 2008 at Humility of Mary Shelter where she assisted individuals in securing stable housing through the shelter’s transitional housing program.
She left the Quad Cities in 2011 to join the staff of St. Louis-based Project COPE while studying to obtain her master’s degree in public administration at SIU. In St. Louis, she led a transitional housing program for individuals returning to the community after long-term incarceration in the Missouri State Prison system. HHSI reports that just 3 percent of the former inmates experienced recidivism after participating in her program.
During an earlier interview with representatives of the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office and The Catholic Messenger, Velez said she chose to live and study in St. Louis because she had family in the region. She was grateful to find a job with an organization that accepted people regardless of addiction.
Velez returned to the Quad Cities in 2013 to assist individuals who have experienced violence or trauma. She later worked at Family Resources to manage programs in Illinois dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.
At HHSI, she and her staff have been dealing with an over capacity at the shelter because of the severe flooding in Davenport. Many of the camps people took refuge in got flooded, such as sites in the downtown area and on Credit Island.
Velez said she hopes to develop an organization in which any employee is able to step up. “We are really going to rely on hands-on leaders.” She also hopes to collaborate with local landlords to provide fair and affordable housing.
A large part of this, she said, is being an advocate for those who seek assistance from HHSI and educating landlords about the wages people receive.
A group that Velez said needs advocacy is women without children. Typically, she said many are fearful to speak up because they are “afraid of the unknown,” which could leave many of them in unsafe situations.
HHSI doesn’t want to “simply plug someone into another system.” Through a coordinated entry process, individuals are matched up with programs and resources that best fit their need based on their age and geographic preference.