Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 5, 1989
Archdiocesan Catholics Reach Out To Homeless In 1988
By Paula Day
If the number of homeless grew in 1988, so did efforts by Catholics in the archdiocese to help with their needs. Through activities to raise awareness and to provide food, shelter and health care, many shared in coping with the challenge of homelessness.
A major event to raise awareness, the National March for the Homeless attracted 8,000 to 10,000 marchers from across the country, as well as from north Georgia parishes and communities. The march took place in Atlanta Feb. 27 and was sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless.
The Trappists from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers were represented in the march, as were volunteers from the St. Francis Table soup kitchen at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta. Parish groups from Sts. Peter and Paul, Decatur; St. Lawrence, Lawrenceville; Transfiguration, Marietta; and St. Jude, Sandy Springs, were among those who carried banners and joined the march.
Other awareness and fund-raising events in 1988 included the Run for the Homeless, sponsored by St. Thomas the Apostle parish, Smyrna, on June 25; St. Joseph Hospitals Mercy Day, Sept. 24, when hospital employees brought clothing and donated money to assist the homeless living in city shelters; a Hunger Week at Marist School, Sept. 26-30; and a musical comedy to benefit the poor and homeless sponsored by the Friends of St. Martin de Poores of Holy Cross parish, Chamblee, in mid-November. Many parishes and schools participated in the fifth annual Metro Atlanta Hunger Walk Sept. 25 and helped raise the $125,000 to support soup kitchens and other programs for the homeless in the metropolitan area.
St. Francis table continued serving Saturday and holiday meals to the hungry and homeless in 1988. The Table, which opened in 1982, could be a gauge of the growing numbers of needy. Its first year, an average of 85 to 200 people were fed each Saturday. In 1987 the Shrine added holiday meals on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Monday and government holidays. The average number served grew in 1988 to between 600 and 750 each week.
St. Vincent de Paul parish conferences and the archdiocesan council through its Five For Food program were among those who helped with the St. Francis Table ministry.
St. Anthonys Church in Atlantas West End continued to provide hot meals weekdays at noon. The parish hall also was used nightly during the 1987-88 months to shelter 35 homeless men. St. Anthonys opened its shelter in January 1983 and was the only shelter in a Catholic church in the archdiocese.
After completing the 1987-88 shelter year, St. Anthonys pastor, Father Bruce Wilkinson, decided on the advice of a shelter committee to close the shelter for a year and reevaluate the program.
Another pioneer shelter at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta found its neighbor, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception parish, a welcome ally in its ministry to the homeless. When Central Presbyterian had to close its gymnasium for renovations, the Catholic community at Immaculate Conception opened its facilities and will continue to shelter 35 homeless men nightly through March 13, 1989.
Marist Schools gymnasium became a temporary shelter for a week in July during the Democratic National Convention.
The Mercy Mobile Health Unit, a van transporting volunteer medical personnel and supplies, made the rounds of shelters bringing health care and healing three nights a week to the homeless. The vans operations were under the auspices of Mercy Health Services of the South and the volunteers came from such varied places as the Centers for Disease Control, Henrietta Egleston Hospital, Mercer Southern School of Pharmacy and Brenau School of Nursing, as well as St. Josephs Hospital.
In March three vans carrying paid medical professionals began visiting shelters during the day, five days a week, under a program called the Atlanta Community Health Program for the Homeless. The combined efforts of these two projects brought health care to 4,837 homeless since March 1, 1988.
To alleviate the underlying problem of homelessness by providing decent housing, religious groups, ecumenical and Catholic, came together during 1988 to renovate or build homes.
Ecumenical Atlanta Churches for the Homeless (EACH) renovated houses in a southeast Atlanta neighborhood in cooperation with the South Atlanta Land Trust. Christ the King Cathedral parishioners joined four other Christian congregations in this effort, renovating three homes since spring.
Other parishes started from scratch, building new homes as part of Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating poverty housing worldwide by building homes and selling them at cost. Expenses are kept down with volunteer labor, donated materials, and labor provided by the future homeowner.
Holy Cross parish in Chamblee helped build a Habitat home on Hill Street in Atlanta, south of the Fulton County Stadium. Habitat for Humanity of Northeast Georgia, Inc. dedicated its eighth house in the rural quadrant of the state in May. Father Gerald Peterson, pastor at the time of St. Marks Church in Clarkesville, was president of the northeast Georgia affiliate.
St. Judes parish in Sandy Springs committed financing and labor to building a now-completed house in Mercanicsville in southeast Atlanta. The work began the first Saturday in October and men and women from the parish were at the site each Saturday, doing everything from framing and roofing to interior painting and cleanup.
Parishioners from St. Anns in Marietta volunteered with Cobb Habitat for Humanity on two homes under construction.
In its outreach to the homeless, Marist School set a precedent when it became the first high school in the nation to form a campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity International. The school signed a covenent with the Americus, Ga. Foundation in early October. Marists Habitat functions as a formally recognized group under school auspices.
The problem of homelessness was not solved in 1988. However, Catholics of the archdiocese were involved in efforts to deal with the pain, the hunger, the medical complications, the lack of decent housing, with which the homeless live every day.