By William J. McCarthy
“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?”
As Marylanders, we are fortunate to live in one of the wealthiest states in the nation. Yet 9.7 percent of the people in our state live in poverty – that’s nearly 560,000 people, including almost 175,000 children. Poverty and homelessness exist in our cities, small towns and rural communities; more than one in five Baltimoreans lives in poverty, as do approximately one in six residents of Allegany and Garrett counties. Eleven percent of Maryland residents are currently without health care.
The faces of poverty are diverse; there is not one face or profile or situation. The people served by the programs of Catholic Charities may be chronically homeless, or may be working full time and yet forced to choose between buying food or paying the utility bill. Some of our guests have been recently incarcerated and have great difficulty finding work; others are former professionals who have been seeking employment for a year or more. Sudden job loss, a health crisis, a mother fleeing abuse – there are many factors that lead people to Catholic Charities.
The former Archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, often reminded us that we serve those in need not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic. It is in this same spirit that Catholic Charities serves people who are affected by poverty and homelessness, most of whom are seeking a path to a better life, and ideally self-sufficiency.
We realize that many of the people we serve may never move out of poverty. In these cases, Catholic Charities seeks to affirm the dignity inherent within all people, and to provide for their basic needs. In many other cases, however, serving meals is where our relationship with the people we serve begins.
Our Daily Bread Employment Center and My Sister’s Place Women’s Center provide nutritious meals, and also resources to enable individuals to find and maintain both work and stable housing. Our Daily Bread offers “Work 4 Success,” a week-long program where participants learn how to search online job sites, prepare a résumé, and interview for a job. At a more intensive level, Christopher Place Employment Academy is a comprehensive 18-month program, where dozens of formerly homeless men receive education, training, and emotional and spiritual support. Together, these programs help hundreds of people enter or return to the workforce each year.
At Sarah’s House near Fort Meade and Anna’s House in Harford County, families find emergency shelter, and support services that allow them to find work and eventually return to a permanent home. The Esperanza Center in Fells Point offers medical, dental and mental health services to well over 1,000 clients each year. Programs such as EarnBenefits and the Hunger-Free Communities Partnership help struggling families stay in their homes by helping them find the assistance for which they qualify.
Laura’s story is a wonderful example of a person finding the right resources to improve her life. About three years ago, Laura decided to flee a very abusive domestic situation in her home state of Alabama. She and her sister boarded a bus for Washington, D.C., despite not knowing anyone there. Laura learned about a domestic violence shelter in Harford County, and from there was referred to Anna’s House Transitional Housing Program.
During her 16 months at Anna’s House, she had help and support for the things that she needed in order to get back out on her own: preparing her résumé, finding a job, budgeting, and tutoring so she could take her GED. Laura now lives in her own one-bedroom apartment, and works full time at Walmart, where she was recently voted Employee of the Month. Seeking spiritual growth as well, she began to attend church regularly with her mentor from Anna’s House; she and her sister have since been received into the Catholic Church. Laura considers herself fortunate for the life she now lives, and grateful to Anna’s House for giving her the opportunities she desperately needed.
One in an occasional series of columns from Catholic Charities of Baltimore.
William J. McCarthy is executive director of Catholic Charities of Baltimore.