How Catholic Charities are Working to Reduce Homelessness

Homelessness is a growing problem in America, with more than 500,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. Particularly in big cities where rents are high, more and more people are finding it difficult to find and maintain secure housing. Sheltering the homeless is one of the corporal works of mercy, and so Catholic charities throughout the country are working to shelter and support those without permanent housing.

To offer some insight into how Catholics are combating homelessness, John Westerville, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark, stopped by Morning Air® and shared what his organization provides to those in his community experiencing homelessness. Having worked for Catholic Charities for 36 years, John shared how the organization’s approach to homelessness has changed over the years.

“Right now we have seven different shelters throughout the Archdiocese,” he explained. “When we first started over 100 years ago, we would fight homelessness just through emergency response, mostly food and shelter at the time. But as we have seen over the many years, that has changed. Now we offer comprehensive services to the individuals, which do prevention. We try to get a head start with trying to keep people from getting into homelessness, so we’re also providing counseling and case management services.”

“This is much needed,” he emphasized. “It’s called wraparound services because you can get an individual into housing, but … Catholic Charities provides a whole list of services between having housing counseling, substance abuse, mental health services, and trying to get the individual find out what causes the homelessness to begin with.”

This work toward prevention is helpful not only in addressing the causes of homelessness in the lives of different individuals, but also in relieving homeless shelters that are consistently at capacity.

“Our shelters are already full, unfortunately,” John reported. “About 335 beds a night are full every night. When I started in this agency about 36 years ago we had periods of time, during the summers, we saw less coming into our shelters. But unfortunately, the last couple of years, we’ve been full every night.”

But despite the Catholic Charities shelters being at capacity, John explained they are still working to serve those they cannot shelter themselves, by working with other organizations in their area. He told Morning Air host John Harper, “We’re already working with government agencies to become a shelter provider in their community, to try to bring more people into our shelters. Again, you know, our beds are only at 335. We can only hold that much, unfortunately. We try to work with other shelters, and we’re working with the Port Authority in Jersey City to do services as well.”

In many cities, the price of rent for even a studio apartment can be prohibitive, and it becomes a barrier to getting people out of homelessness and into more permanent housing. In the Archdiocese of Newark many are experiencing this inability to afford housing despite being employed. John explained that Catholic Charities is working to address this problem by working to bring affordable housing to high cost of living areas.

“We build affordable housing throughout the four counties and we’re working with other dioceses across New Jersey to build affordable housing,” he explained. “It’s much needed. As you said, people have funding but they just don’t have enough. In Hudson County specifically, a studio apartment is going for $1,300, and we see more and more trying to get homeless people through the system and trying to get permanent housing for them becomes very difficult when the rents are so expensive.”

“We’re working on trying to provide services that will get them back into a job getting ability to pay for rent. But again, affordable housing. We will be building a new shelter in Jersey City and on top of the shelter we’re going to divide 15 apartments for housing. Again, just a small amount of units but a major impact on helping those in the community who are homeless.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

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