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Posted August 2, 2007
A Success Story Well Worth Pondering and Reduplicating

White House conference discusses
faith-based efforts to aid homeless

By Joshua Garner
Catholic News Service

The mission of Eva's Village is to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and treat the addicted.

The Catholic-run Eva's Kitchen, established in Paterson, N.J., in 1982 to assist the city's homeless, soon blossomed into Eva's Village, a shelter providing medical care as well as a rehabilitation program.

With assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Eva's Village has been able to flourish. It was just one of several faith-based and nonprofit groups whose representatives met near the White House in Washington in mid-July for a round-table discussion on "Faith- and Community-Based Partnerships to End Homelessness."

"Mother Teresa said that poverty is not only being homeless, hungry and naked," HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson told participants, noting that the founder of the Missionaries of Charity described being unloved, unwanted and uncared for as the greatest poverty.

In programs to help the homeless, he said, "providing a roof over one's head is not enough."

The event sponsored by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives brought together city officials and nonprofit leaders from around the country to discuss the continued need for resources in the fight to end chronic homelessness.

As many as 3.5 million individuals are affected by homelessness annually, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

In his remarks, Jackson thanked nonprofits for their efforts, saying, "The government cannot do it alone." Since 2001, he added, the Bush administration has awarded $9.1 billion to affordable housing programs throughout the country.

"When the nonprofit and faith-based organizations get together, the result is a powerful change in how the homeless are served," he said.

In a panel that included Presentation Sister Gloria Perez, executive director of Eva's Village, representatives stressed the continued need for government assistance in their fight against homelessness.

"What good is it if you feed people and they're living on the street?" Sister Perez asked during the discussion.

"In a given night (in the U.S.) there are as many as 744,000 to 800,000 individuals without homes," said Jessica Schuler, a policy analyst for the National Coalition for the Homeless, in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Many of these community initiatives go beyond helping the homeless, by rehabilitating individuals prone to substance abuse and finding jobs for people recently released from prison.

"For us to end homelessness we must study it to better understand it," Jackson said. "Our commitment must be extensive and for the long haul."

Many of the panelists gave reports on their programs' successes.

"We have people now who are clean and sober," said Sister Perez of her program.

Another panelist, the Rev. Faith Flower, a Methodist minister who is executive director of Cass Community Social Services in Detroit, said her organization has had to turn their problems into opportunities, after the city's slow economy left few jobs available for their clients.

Capitalizing on Detroit's many empty lots, Rev. Flower said her organization discovered that they could search the lots for tires and recycle them into doormats at a profit.

"All of a sudden our problem is our opportunity," she said.

Most of the leaders said HUD was just one of several resources they were able to draw upon, with most also reaching into their own communities for funding.

Sister Perez added that Eva's Village is marching toward its goal, with its service buildings already taking up a city block.

"We are really going to create a village," Sister Perez said. "God bless HUD."