An Article from the 2020 Good Samaritan Ministries Diocese Newsletter:
LOVE IN ACTION
“I’ve got a good job here but I can’t find housing for me and my family”, said an unnamed Helena man experiencing homelessness. “I learned back in high school to trust my maker so that’s what I’m doin’ and I just keep on tryin’.”
For those who are homeless, winter brings significant additional challenges when the pandemic is also creating extra risk. The organizations that serve individuals and families experiencing homelessness are reporting record numbers of people needing assistance with shelter. However, the pandemic impacts their ability to provide services.
Since its inception in the 1980’s, Good Samaritan Ministries (GSM) in Helena has provided help through a variety of programs to serve individuals with basic needs as well people who are homeless and those in need of immediate assistance. These programs include the Assistance Ministry and associated Thrift Store, Our Place, Housing Navigator, and the Street Outreach Program. These different programs within GSM are funded by the four area Catholic parishes (Cathedral of Saint Helena, St. Mary’s Catholic Community, Our Lady of the Valley, and Sts. Cyril & Methodious) who provide monthly donations, and many other area churches, individuals, grants, the City of Helena, and Lewis and Clark County.
“The Assistance Ministry is available 24/7 so people can get services any day of the week including evenings”, said Executive Director, Theresa Ortega. “This assistance program provides basic emergency crisis shelter, help to pay rent and power bills, clothing, furniture and household goods as well as helping with medical care and transportation costs.”
Within the Thrift Store is another unique service called the “Placer Pantry” that is only open at scheduled times to provide free items to those in need which includes diapers, baby formula, soap, sleeping bags and personal hygiene items. The Soroptimists Club of Helena and the Greater Federation of Women partner with GSM to provide these pantry items.
GSM is one of the “front door” agencies to the Housing First statewide database. This is a collaborative project through United Way that identifies the unique needs of individuals and families who are homeless or at immediate risk of becoming homeless, matches them with the agencies that can best meet their needs for housing and other resources, and connects them with these agencies. This makes the process of securing shelter and a more permanent home significantly less stressful for people in need.
In December of 2019, GSM took over the management of the “Our Place” program for Lewis and Clark County. With its colorful outdoor sign promising empowerment, recovery and wellness, it provides people in need (veterans, those from institutional settings, or those simply lost and in need of help) with a safe warm daytime place. In addition to companionship, Helena Food Share, Salvation Army, and dropped off food donations provide breakfast, lunch and snacks. Hot coffee is served all day long and people can use a bathroom and a washer/dryer to do their laundry – a luxury for those who cannot afford a laundromat.
Trained staff at Our Place networks with community and state agencies to meet a variety of people’s needs that range from chemical dependency, physical and mental health services and necessary medications to food, housing and helping them to sign up to receive treatment, mental health support, Social Security, Medicaid, or Veteran Administration benefits.
A man walked into GSM’s Our Place seeking help; he was homeless and living in his vehicle. Four months earlier his daughter had committed suicide, and a week later his older brother died from COVID-19. Although a recovered addict who had been in sobriety for ten years, he turned back to drugs to numb his grief, and then lost his job and his housing.
In a compassionate response, Marvin Colman, Manager of Our Place, reached out and partnered with Instar Community Services on behalf of the man seeking help to obtain a Chemical Dependency Evaluation. Upon completion of the evaluation, it was determined he needed inpatient treatment and GSM then contacted the Montana Chemical Dependency Center in Butte, who agreed to take him within the week. GSM supplied transportation to Butte, where the man spent 30 days in treatment. He successfully completed treatment, and now has housing and a job. The added grace in this situation is that he reconnected with his other two children.
GSM utilizes an Emergency Solutions Grant, which provides emergency shelter and helps people remain in their homes by paying up to six months of back rent. This grant also funds the Rapid Rehousing program which pays for the deposit and up to three months of rent on housing for people who are homeless.
Recently, GSM received a grant to develop a new Street Outreach Program where trained individuals reach out to people living on the street. They offer people who are homeless food, hot coffee, and a human connection. The outreach staff assists with any immediate needs including referrals for social services. It can take the outreach staff a period of time to build bonds of trust, as many homeless people have been traumatized and may have lived on the street for a long time.
One of many successful GSM clients whose story has a happy ending is “Kimberly”. Her name is just Kimberly – she has no last name for this article.
“The longer you’re homeless, the harder it is to get on your feet,” said Kimberly after two years of living homeless. When she walked into GSM’s Our Place, Kimberly was timid, scared and sat under the stairs visibly shaking. But two months later, and with the combined efforts of GSM, Our Place staff, and the Helena Housing Authority, she is now out of the cold and in her own apartment with food in her kitchen, furniture and a bed.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the corporal works of mercy are feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity; it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.
Each one of us can help the homeless people in our community. We can offer prayers, make financial contributions to GSM, donate clothing, food, furniture and household goods, or become a volunteer. We can educate ourselves on the causes and conditions of homelessness. We can integrate the Catholic Social Teaching principles into our lives, which entails recognizing that all we have is a gift, given to be shared, and we are all created as children of God.
As our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote, “Each of us can learn something from others. No one is useless and no one is expendable.”
Beloved Mother, help us realize that we are all members of one great family and to recognize the bond that unites us, so that, in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity we can help to alleviate countless situations of poverty and need.” Pope Francis