By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — The Christian Service-Social Action committee of Our Lady of Victory Parish confronted a wonderful challenge. Many more people showed up for the Jan. 21 presentation on homelessness than expected. Would the committee have enough room to squeeze 61 people into the gathering space they thought would comfortably fit 35? Enough food to serve everyone?
Committee members made it work, pulling extra chairs and tables out of a closet while guests scooted closer together to make room for others. Organizers had plenty of food, offering seconds on ham and cheese sliders. The committee’s chair, Nancy Stone, and the presenters were grateful that so many people wanted to learn more about homelessness and to do something about it.
Educating the parish and the greater community about the principles of Catholic Social Teaching is a committee goal. One of the principles focuses on the poor and the oppressed, a good topic for the first presentation, the committee decided.
They invited John DeTaeye, development director of Humility Homes & Services in Davenport and John Cooper, pastoral associate and business manager at St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, which serves people in need through its McAnthony Window and other ministries. Both men, Stone and fellow Social Action committee member Deacon Frank Agnoli organized the presentation. “I was adamant about bringing former homeless people to talk and that was able to happen,” Stone said.
‘It can happen to anybody’
One of three people who spoke about their experience with homelessness was Ricky Peed, who struggled with alcoholism and spent years living on the streets. He was a regular guest at McAnthony Window. Now he has a home, through Humility Homes & Services Inc. (HHSI), and a job, working part-time in the agency’s warehouse. He thanked HHSI, Cooper and other service providers. “I thank God every day,” Peed told the audience. Homelessness “can happen to anybody. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I’m going to be homeless.’”
He needed help to turn around his life. Cooper said he wrote about Peed’s trying story in St. Anthony Parish’s e-newsletter. Prior to getting Peed’s permission to tell the story, “I challenged him on his drinking,” Cooper said. “I asked, ‘How many prayers will it take? Ten? Twenty? One-thousand?’” After the story appeared, “people were praying all over the place for Ricky,” Cooper said.
The prayers inspired Peed, who received help in a rehab facility and secured a supportive housing apartment with HHSI. He hopes to get a full-time job and move into his own apartment. “It makes my life so much simpler to live without emotional conflict and confusion,” he told the gathering. “I’m not superior to anybody, but I’m not inferior to anybody. I’m equal,” he said. “I’m grateful you allowed me to come here to speak to you.”
Help people keep their homes
Cooper talked about the ministries that have flowed from St. Anthony/ McAnthony Window: an indoor meal space; a ministry of presence; a bicycle ministry; a clothing ministry; and the Quad Cities Hunger, Housing, Health Task Force (HHH). He spoke of volunteers who chose to spend Thanksgiving Day sharing a meal with guests at McAnthony Window, their “second family.”
In addition to meeting immediate needs, “the big thing we’re trying to do is to keep people in their own homes or apartments,” Cooper said. He hopes that parishes can work together, in cooperation with social service agencies to ensure housing for families facing homelessness.
DeTaeye talked about HHSI, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year assisting people in need of housing and resources by providing them with a roof over their heads as they work toward obtaining and maintaining stable housing.
HHSI began as Humility of Mary Housing Inc., founded by the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport. The Sisters of Humility later took over a struggling homeless shelter in central Davenport and renamed it Humility of Mary Shelter Inc. The two agencies merged in 2018. The merged entity retains the name “Humility” as “an active verb” that means “radical acceptance of the human condition,” DeTaeye said.
For the fiscal year that ended July 1, 2019, HHSI served 1,000 persons in the agency’s programs: veterans, families and single adults, DeTaeye said. An additional 386 person stayed at the winter overflow shelter that HHSI also operates at King’s Harvest in Davenport. Altogether, HHSI served nearly 1,400 people who had nowhere else to call home.
“When all of us — people of all faiths — wrap our hearts, minds, skills, resources around this group of 1,400 people, we have within our grasp the solutions to end homelessness. Creating homes for everyone can bring us all together,” DeTaeye said.
He also told the audience about the high eviction rate in Davenport – 4.72 %. Nearly five out of every 100 renter homes in Davenport faced eviction in 2016, according to evictionlab.org. That placed the city 44th in the top evicting large cities in the U.S.
Cooper and DeTaeye plan to collaborate with the Diocese of Davenport, hoping to bring parishes together to address affordable housing and eviction issues. “There are a lot of people in our parishes who want to do something to help,” Cooper said. “What we need to do as parishes is figure out what people can practically do.” The bicycle ministry between St. Anthony and St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf is one example, he said. “We have to have a close relationship with social service agencies. We need to make sure we use our resources in the best way possible and that we’re not duplicating services.”
Stone hopes that all in attendance had the same takeaway she had: “the extreme need for changes in policies to create more affordable housing, higher wages and more help for those who are so close to eviction.”