Several years after the Congregation of the Humility of Mary moved its motherhouse from Ottumwa to Davenport some of its members began interviewing civic leaders about unmet needs in the area. Affordable housing stood out. The CHM sisters responded, choosing to help single-parent families experiencing homelessness to become self-sufficient.
With staff, volunteers and community support, the sisters nurtured a nonprofit organization that 30 years later serves as a model for creating housing opportunities for all who need it. Humility Homes and Services (HHSI) is “a little voice of Christ” responding to human suffering, as a member of The Catholic Messenger’s Editorial Board said.
HHSI provides nearly a dozen housing programs and services focused on collaborating with families and individuals to obtain and/or maintain affordable housing in the Quad Cities and offers a low-barrier, emergency shelter to adult individuals without a home. HHSI practices what the late “Father” Marvin Mottet called “the two feet of social action” by addressing immediate needs (housing), and systemic change (elimination of obstacles to affordable housing).
“This was more than a roof over my head. It was the foundation under my feet,” says Connie Coopman. She and her infant daughter Carissa were the first participants 30 years ago when HHSI got its start as Humility of Mary Housing, Inc.
The Catholic Messenger chose this week to feature the work of HHSI as it observes its 30th anniversary in a pandemic that has accelerated the affordable housing crisis and all of the problems contributing to it. “It is a community challenge that is part of a much bigger challenge facing our entire country,” says CHM President Sister Mary Ann Vogel who has been involved in HHSI from the start. “We simply have to be out advocating for the needs of those who come to us for service. So many changes have to take place in order for everyone to have a place to call home and to keep that home.”
HHSI helps shape the conversation about tackling the affordable housing crisis as a partner in the Quad Cities Housing Cluster. Last month, the consortium of bi-state not-for-profit and for-profit entities introduced an initiative called Silos to Solutions to address affordable housing needs and to invite the greater community to help bring it to fulfilment (contact Leslie Kilgannon at qchousingcluster@ gmail.com).
The influence of HHSI spreads beyond the Quad Cities in the Diocese of Davenport. Mary Margaret Butler, a Catholic living in Ottumwa, sought advice from HHSI about establishing a women and children’s emergency shelter in her city. The late Sister Donna Donovan, CHM, who served in Ottumwa, was a family friend who supported the ministry and mission of Butler’s nonprofit organization Whatsoever You Do (WYD). The sisters see Butler’s organization as a way to continue their ministry in Ottumwa (visit the WYD Facebook page at https://tinyurl.com/yx92tsqa).
“They certainly are a model to follow,” said Craig Fenton, who has talked with representatives of HHSI among other organizations in developing Transitions, a nonprofit homeless and low-income resource center in Burlington. He hopes to open the Transitions shelter in the next 60 days (contact him at TransitionsDMC@outlook.com or P.O. Box 59, 515 S. Main St., Burlington, Iowa, 52601).
Affordable housing remains a challenge in our state and across the nation. One-quarter of all renters paid one-half of their income on housing before the pandemic, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said during a July 16 webinar organized by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). Many were one emergency away from homelessness. HHSI works to prevent that from happening.
Between March 18 and Sept. 7, 4,771 evictions were filed in Iowa, 95% based on nonpayment of rent. This number does not reflect actual evictions and the CDC has published an emergency order through Dec. 31 that temporarily halts residential evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. However, the filings signal that housing needs are going to become more acute.
Moving beyond its 30th year, HHSI has begun strategic planning. That process will include exploring the transition from a supported ministry of the sisters to a “free-standing nonprofit agency capable of sustaining the sisters’ legacy of providing housing and services for those experiencing homelessness,” said Sister Johanna Rickl, CHM vice president.
Thank you, sisters, for being the little voice of Christ responding to his mandate in Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger you welcomed me. …”
Now, let us be the little voice of Christ through donations, volunteerism and advocacy. Go to the Humility Homes and Services website www.humilityhomes.org or call (563) 326-1330.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor