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The Pope Francis Center: Saving Lives on the Streets

By William Bole

September 11, 2018 — On a typical day, the Pope Francis Center at Saints Peter and Paul Jesuit Church in Detroit welcomes around 170 guests who receive daytime services. They’re considered “chronically homeless,” in part because they’ve been living on the streets or in shelters for at least a year, or they’ve had repeated episodes of homelessness. They also tend to suffer from multiple afflictions including mental illness and drug addiction.


Fr. Tim McCabe, SJ, executive director of the Pope Francis Center, greets a guest.

At the center, every one of them enjoys a nutritious meal. Guests can also take hot showers, and wash and dry their clothes. But Father Tim McCabe, SJ, who directs the center, says this population has been otherwise falling through the cracks of homeless services. That system is geared mostly to “crisis homelessness,” in which people find themselves temporarily without a home due to job loss or some other setback. They’re much easier to move into permanent housing.

Chronic homelessness is different. Fr. McCabe says he often drives through downtown Detroit in the early morning hours, sees the homeless on streets and in doorways, and says to himself as well as to others, “We can do better than this.”

So he and the center’s eight-member staff including his daughter, Mary McEvoy (see main story), have been helping to forge new ways of addressing persistent homelessness. More and more, they’re providing wraparound services — access to an array of clinics offering healthcare, dentistry, podiatry, legal advocacy, housing assistance, addiction counseling and other help. The combination of supportive services and stable housing is key.


Mary McEvoy (third from left) works at the Pope Francis Center with her dad, Fr. Tim McCabe, SJ (fourth from left).

According to Fr. McCabe, this model is aimed at stabilizing — literally saving — their lives. The challenge could not be more urgent: Just this past winter, three of the guests who frequent the center died of hypothermia on the streets of Detroit.

William Bole, a journalist in Boston, writes frequently about the Jesuits.






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