We welcome any reasonable initiative that has a chance to ease the intractable problem of homelessness in New York.
That’s why we’re interested in the latest proposal announced Dec. 17 by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Members of the city’s Commission of Religious Leaders who joined him for the announcement included Cardinal Dolan, who pledged archdiocesan Catholic Charities’ help in the effort.
The mayor’s proposal, called “The Journey Home,” is a five-year expanded outreach to the city’s “street homeless” population of 3,600, a group that’s notoriously resistant to accepting help, with the aim of ultimately providing permanent housing and a companion array of social services and health care.
We certainly support the goal and, given Catholic Charities’ excellent track record, we have more than a reasonable expectation that its partnership with the city will help get the program off to a good start.
Cardinal Dolan rightly called the Church participation “a moral obligation.”
He said sheltering the poor and vulnerable is “a duty that we, like the city, have been doing for a long time.”
An important part of the Catholic Charities component of the program would contribute to an increase in the number of the city’s “safe haven” shelters—small shelters of 25 to 50 beds each that are seen by street homeless people as safer and less bureaucratic than traditional shelters.
Catholic Charities has agreed to identify five potential sites—unused buildings that once served as rectories, convents and churches—as its contribution to the mayor’s goal of increasing the overall number of safe haven beds by 1,000 across the city.
Catholic Charities and its agencies and affiliates have been operating emergency and temporary shelters around the archdiocese for decades, serving more than 12,000 individuals each year, including one safe haven in Holy Rosary parish in East Harlem.
With that experience, Catholic Charities is well positioned to step in quickly whenever there’s a need, just as they’re doing now, and its dedicated staff does not walk away from a challenge.
It’s practically impossible, for instance, for most of us to understand why someone—even one who is mentally ill or an addict—would reject an offer of shelter, choosing instead to sleep all night in a subway car or on a freezing sidewalk.
Yet these are the very people that Catholic Charities seeks out, even with the understanding that the problem of street homelessness is deep-seated and there’s no easy solution or quick fix.
However, dismissing the problem as too big to solve poses a risk that nothing at all can or will be done to help.
“That’s nonsense,” said Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, in an interview with CNY reporter Dan Pietrafesa. “We can do a lot. We can take positive steps, and that’s what this initiative is.”
Cardinal Dolan, promising the mayor that he “can count on us” as partners in the effort, added, “Count on not only our help, but count on our prayers.”
We’ll surely be joining those prayers, and we hope that all New Yorkers will as well.