SPECIAL TO THE CS&T
GERMANTOWN – St. Vincent de Paul must be beaming. Depaul House, located in the former convent of Germantown’s Immaculate Conception Parish, is up and running as transitional housing for 35 formerly homeless men.
It opened April 3 and was blessed and dedicated by Cardinal Justin Rigali on May 25. Now it will be formally introduced to the community at large during an open house Sept. 16.
“When I first walked in the door I found love in this place,” said Richard, 53. “I’ve made wrong decisions in the past, and now I’m trying to get my life together.”
Richard is probably typical. He’d worked various jobs off and on in the past, more recently at a steel mill where he was laid off. Homeless and referred to Depaul, he received extensive counseling and help with preparing a resume. Now that he’s started a new job he’ll pay a modest sum to Depaul, where program counselors will help him work on future goals so that hopefully, within a year, he will move out on his own to start life anew.
Meanwhile, like all of the residents, Richard has his own room and a hot dinner every night with breakfast and lunch also available.
Depaul House is a first fruit of Depaul USA, which was founded in 2008 as an offshoot of the Depaul Group, established two decades ago in London by the late Cardinal Basil Hume in cooperation with various Vincentian entities.
Its mission is to “offer homeless and disadvantaged people the opportunity to fulfill their potential and move forward towards and independent and positive future.”
Germantown, the section of Philadelphia with more than its share of real poverty where Vincentian Fathers have labored since 1851, was a natural location for Depaul House.
“The program could not be more Vincentian,” said Father Bernard Tracey, board chairman of Depaul House and superior at nearby St. Vincent Seminary. He sees it as a combination of people who have needs in their lives and others who are working with them to make sure they have a full life. In an era when religious vocations are not plentiful, it is an excellent example of lay people coming into ministry to fill the needs, he said.
An example of that is Eileen Smith, the recently appointed executive director of Depaul House. Also the director of religious education at St. Vincent Parish, for the past two decades she has worked with the many outreach programs for the homeless and the poor which are central to Vincentian ministry in Germantown.
“Vincent de Paul opened his arms and his heart to everyone and that’s our desire,” she said. “My work in Germantown over 20 years has brought me to this. I have a particular interest and love for those who are homeless, especially men who have to struggle with so many societal stereotypes, judgments and expectations that are a disconnect from their lives.”
Homelessness has been on the upswing because of the economic recession, and the residents of Depaul House do not fit stereotypes.
On average, they have a high school education and two are college graduates, according to program director Sandra Guillory, a former volunteer with Project H.O.M.E. and director of social work at Lutheran Settlement House.
At Depaul House, which has a staff of five full-time and four part-time, counselors work with the men on unemployment issues and developing resources. When they obtain work, they also work on budgeting, saving and tracking expenses so they will have a handle on where they want to be in six months or a year, Guillory explained.
“Everyone should have a home and not just in terms of physical safety, but their psychological safety and their emotional safety.” Guillory said. “That’s what we strive for here. I’ve been working with the homeless for over five years, and I’m inspired every day by their tenacity.”
Although founded on Vincentian ideals, Depaul House is open to men of all religions or no religion, according to Smith, and the residents come from all over the city. Its location, at the Immaculate Conception convent (which is another Vincentian parish) is mutually beneficial. “The parish needs the income and Depaul needs the facility,” she said.
Some assistance to Depaul comes through food supplied by archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services and SHARE, but the major funder is Philadelphia’s Office for Supportive Housing, supplemented by other grants and donations. Dependence on the city of Philadelphia’s money can be problematic, given the current financial crisis that has the city behind in payments to almost all its vendors.
“We follow the life of St. Vincent de Paul, and he had a great trust in spanine providence,” Smith said.
Donations to assist Depaul’s ministry to the homeless should be sent to Depaul USA Inc., 5725 Sprague St., Philadelphia, PA 19138. See also www.depaulusa.org
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.