October 14, 2014 — After volunteering at the St. Martin de Porres homeless shelter in Seattle in the early 1990s, Joseph Carver realized the shelters in the city could not accommodate the homeless. His solution: work with churches to open up more space.
According to Fr. Carver, who entered the Jesuits in 1999 and is now the founding president of the Seattle Nativity School for at-risk middle school students, the deinstitutionalization of those suffering from mental illness in the 1980s “meant that many more people ended up on the streets. Mental-health resources were stripped from communities.”
Turning the homeless back out into the cold was the most difficult part of volunteering at the shelter, Fr. Carver recalled. “The men would have a shower and a hot meal, but then I had to take them in a van back onto the streets and tell them to ‘get out’ because we didn’t have enough room for them to stay overnight in the shelter. Often it was excruciatingly cold,” he said.
“It was the worst job by far. I recall more than one night asking myself, ‘Can I do this one more night? Which way am I going to turn?’ But I knew that if I was going to follow Christ, if I was going to live the Gospel, I had only one choice, and I would drive once more to the shelter.”
After failed attempts to persuade the City Council to open up spaces for the homeless such as the public library, Fr. Carver, along with local religious leaders, appealed to the city’s churches. The churches of Seattle’s Central Area stepped forward, beginning an outreach that continues today. Seattle’s annual homeless population numbered close to 3,000 in 2013, a problem the churches help to mitigate, especially during the city’s harsh winter months.
During his various assignments as a Jesuit, Fr. Carver has convinced churches in Missoula, Montana, San Francisco and Philadelphia to provide similar shelter for the overflow of the homeless.
For Fr. Carver, interacting with the homeless was a transformative experience. “You have a whole different relationship to someone who you can call by name and with whom you’ve slept alongside on mats in a church hall,” he said. “Homelessness takes on a face; it’s no longer an abstraction. You’re far more sympathetic to people on the streets who look rundown, exhausted.” [Source: The Seattle Times]