Category Archives: Collaboration for the Homeless

On the Margins of Society

“I was hungry and you gave me food…thirsty and you gave me something to drink… a stranger and you welcomed me…” Matthew 25:35

st-margaret-logoSister Elizabeth Smoyer, SNDdeN finds energy and passion in her ministry in South Bend, Indiana at St. Margaret’s House (SMH), a day center committed to the Gospel value of hospitality. Opened 26 years ago, St. Margaret’s House helps women and children who live in poverty, as they struggle on the margins of society. The mission, central to SMH, is to empower women for improving the quality of life for themselves and their children. Staff and volunteers respond to immediate needs and open a pathway for women to make long-term changes leading to a new life. They offer programs to these women for acquiring skills to face the future with hope.

An Interview: Sister Elizabeth Smoyer describes her ministry at SMH.

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Sister Elizabeth Smoyer, SNDdeN coaches participants in the seminar, Creating My Future.

Since 2010, I have been serving as guest services caseworker, kitchen manager and assistant to the volunteer coordinator. The community at SMH helps women face life with dignity and take responsibility for improving their lives. I would describe the core of our mission as building and strengthening relationships, accomplished by “the mutual transformation of guests, staff, volunteers and donors,” in a supportive community. Poverty as well as wealth can be isolating. Addictions diminish health and the self-worth of individuals. At SMH, the hospitality shared provides acceptance, guidance in a non-judgmental way, safety and a good meal. The staff guides, respects and gives direct attention to each woman for a movement forward. Volunteers welcome guests, assist them in the clothes closet, and cook the daily meal. clothes-closet-webSome accompany the women in the art studio as they uncover talents and learn skills of artistic expression in a communal atmosphere. Volunteers have hearts and minds open to listen and support the guests and the staff. They offer help and speak of how they “receive so much more than they give;” they find how their own suffering connects them to our guests. Day by day, this communal experience opens deepening wells of compassion and silkcreations32014commitment. This community is open, honest and caring for one another. I believe this is transforming action: “By what happens in the community, everybody is changed.”

Concrete Steps
Our long-range goal is helping these women trapped in generational poverty to create their own paths for a stable and secure life for themselves and their families. With concrete steps, we assist the women to improve their lives with skills essential for competing in the workplace. The program Bridges Out of Poverty, Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World offers a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by different economic classes. Women learn the causes of poverty and the hidden rules of the middle class. Each woman examines her own reality and circumstances for creating her own action plan. She names her personal resources to make concrete changes in her life.

Another seminar, Steps for Success, offers additional lessons for these women by giving them practical skills to find and sustain employment. My responsibility is to present this seminar and to coach participants through the entire process. I accompany participants who step out of “the tyranny of the moment,” of just “doing the next thing,” to reflect on where they have been and where they want to go. The women discover a spirituality of wholeness where their gifts and talents manifest themselves. They find financial literacy with a credit review, basic budgeting and banking and learn the basics of resume writing and interviewing skills.

Providing Meals for Homeless
daily-hot-lunch-webAbout 80 persons come each day to St. Margaret’s; 23% of our guests are homeless or precariously housed. We serve a continental breakfast and an afternoon snack, nutritious food meant for some to be their main meal of the day. Before the noon meal, everyone gathers to welcome by name and applaud newcomers. This meal fosters support and inclusion in our community. We share announcements, victories as well as burdens and gather in prayer led by our guests. These women set the tables, deliver meals to the children and also wash the dishes.

St. Margaret’s House supports the varying strengths and vulnerabilities of guests, staff and volunteers. Our participation in community transforms us as we stand “with people made poor in a world marked by increasing divisions and inequalities” (Calls General Chapter 2014, p. 5). When it may seem that the “work is worthless,” we remember the words of Thomas Merton: “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

Learn more at St. Margaret’s House website or follow St. Margaret’s  on Facebook.

Voice for the Homeless

Voice for the Homeless: Interview with Sister Linda Bessom, SNDdeN

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Sr. Linda Bessom SNDdeN, collects donations for the MA Coalition for the Homeless — A Bed for Every Child Initiative. (The Informer-Article 193)

Serving as Outreach/Senior Community Organizer since 1995, Sister Linda Bessom, SNDdeN works with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless (Coalition). Since its beginning in 1981, the Coalition acts from a strong belief in the inherent human dignity of each person, and considers housing as a basic human right, integral to the common good.  Through direct service, homelessness prevention and advocacy, the Coalition attempts to ensure that everyone has a place to call home. In her ministry in Lynn, MA, Sr. Linda fulfills the organization’s mission to eradicate homelessness in the State by collaborating with people who address the root causes of homelessness. She listens to the voices of people most impacted, and engages them in a process to find long-term solutions for systemic change. She is a voice also for people experiencing homelessness and those at risk in their struggle for decent affordable housing, adequate income and accessible services. Sr. Linda sees her ministry as direct service, education and advocacy.

Direct Service
In her outreach, she engages organizations, schools, faith communities through an educational process involving testimonies of people most affected. Her phone calls and meetings every day lead her to direct those in need to resources for shelter, food and rental assistance. Sometimes she advocates for them, especially when there is a wrongful denial for shelter. Occasionally, she  solicits emergency funds from faith communities to house temporarily individuals or families denied shelter or rental assistance. Her direct service for Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children involves many agencies, groups and individuals. For this reason, she promotes project drives for the Furniture Bank in Lynn. She collects back to school supplies, holiday gifts/toys, winter coats and accessories, toiletries, gift cards for emergency aid, especially for children who are truly destitute.

Furnature-BankThe Furniture Bank provides cost-free furnishings to low-income families and individuals transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing in new apartments, when they do not have any furniture. Assistance with basic house items gives them a solid foundation as they rebuild their lives. Throughout the year, Sr. Linda conducts specific drives.  This past year over 9,500 men, women and children (3,776 were women and children) received assistance from one of the Furniture Bank programs. 1,462 persons/families were able to access furniture and household goods for apartments. To families in need, the Coalition distributed 4,800 hygiene kits which included deodorant, soap, shampoo, conditioner, tooth brushes, tooth paste, combs, hairbrushes, razors, and shaving cream.

Coalition-Truck-at-IpswichRecently, Sr. Linda asked for help from a community of over 60 Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who live in Ipswich, MA. Most of these Sisters are retired from active ministry, after having served many years, especially as educators.  Now, they engage in a ministry of prayer, remembering all the intentions asked by those in the area as well as those who send prayer requests to the religious Congregation. Their ministry extends also to a variety of services for those living in poverty.  Responding to Sr. Linda’s request, the Sisters in the Ipswich Community  sent 35 bags and 32 cartons of clothing in early April to the Coalition for the Homeless.  This clothing replenishes needed items in the Clothing Closet at the Furniture Bank in Lynn. This is one way that the Sisters are able to collaborate with Sr. Linda for those in need of clothing.

Education Leads to Advocacy
Sr. Linda knows firsthand how difficult it is for families to survive with such meager benefits to meet basic human needs. She represents these critical voices of people experiencing poverty and most affected by homelessness. She meets with faith communities, shelter and human service providers and concerned advocates who bring these voices to state legislators, able to influence public policies for long-term solutions. Often the Sisters become advocates in post-card campaigns to endorse legislation for emergency aid for elderly, disabled and children living in poverty. Sr. Linda is an organizer with other staff in this campaign for public policy. Many Sisters become endorsers of advocacy campaigns for helping the homeless. Now, after so many years, there is legislation to strengthen a state funded program reaching more than 21,000 extremely destitute individuals.

Another Project
A proven pathway out of homelessness is assurance of an education through high school for children in low-income families. A good night’s sleep has a major effect on a child’s logo a bed for every childcapability to learn; lack of sleep has negative consequences for learning.  A Bed for Every Child Initiative arose from a critical need for beds. Coalition staff, collaborating with public schools three years ago, noticed hundreds of exhausted students too tired to focus on learning in the schools. They were sleeping at night on floors, couches or with siblings or parents. With a goal to distribute 1500 new beds annually, Sr. Linda helps to raise funds and collects new bedding as well. The Coalition provides these beds ($250 a bed) and linens for children in need. This past year 940 children received new twin beds, mattresses, bed frames and linens. This ongoing project is demanding to meet the goal.

In these projects for the homeless, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, their Associates and co-workers respond with action to requests from Sr. Linda. Her outreach expands as she continues to organize drives and distribute necessary items to people made vulnerable through homelessness or limited income. Collaboration and partnerships with faith communities are keys to success in Sr. Linda’s ministry as she networks and stands with those made poor in our society.

Website: www.mahomeless.org
Voice for the Homeless: Interview with Sister Linda Bessom.pdf
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