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HEART program seeks lasting change for homeless

By: Mark C. Rohlena
May 20, 2013 Updated: May 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm
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photo - The courtyard of the Marian House Thursday, November 1, 2012. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
The courtyard of the Marian House Thursday, November 1, 2012. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Catholic Charities' Marian House is located in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. We serve the poor - the working poor, seniors on a fixed income, families and, of course, the homeless. Most are gracious, if not grateful, for the services we provide. Many have brokenness mixed with bad decisions in their background. Some who come to us are in need of a shower, and more than a few need mental health assistance.

Each person we serve is a human being. Whether we like to admit it or not, they are our neighbors. They are created in the image and likeness of God, and Catholic Charities serves them because we are called to do so by Christ. How well we meet our obligation to serve those in need weighs heavily in our individual salvation (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus did not say that our duty to serve the poor extends only to those with good hygiene, who are also thankful, polite, cooperative and capable of holding full-time jobs. Jesus reached out in dramatic ways to the outcasts in society and he often did so before he reached out to those in the mainstream. He strove to ensure that the poor were never forgotten or hidden from sight.

What this means for us is that loving engagement with the poor is critical. Those who respond to such engagement with hate or anger are demonstrating a great chasm of pain in their lives. They may bring with them a lifetime of poor choices, but no person is beyond redemption.

Instead of viewing the poor among us as a collective problem to be solved, we should view them as individual brothers and sisters who need greater levels of care, mentoring and compassion. Do we see God in the disheveled person in the park? Do we believe that we have a greater right to be there than they do? What have we done lately to help reignite the God-given potential in those who have lost the vision of their own promise?

Catholic Charities is proud to operate the Marian House in the downtown area, offering the opportunity for real and lasting change for those who are most in need. We couple our Soup Kitchen operation with three self-sufficiency programs. Because we serve where the poor are found (and have for 45 years), we have a unique chance to reach those who require help. We work together with dozens of agencies on a daily basis, and make space available at the Marian House at no charge to many of them. The multi-agency collaborative at the Marian House Campus is amazing to behold. We are deeply committed to new and innovative approaches, but those approaches must never be a means - direct or indirect - to make whole categories of our neighbors invisible.

Catholic Charities has begun the HEART (Homeless Engagement and Response Team) program. Volunteers can be seen several days per week throughout the downtown area, engaging those in need and raising awareness of available help, as well as providing downtown businesses and patrons with resources and a clear answer for those seeking assistance. We'd love for many more people to support this program with time or resources to help it grow. This is the proper response to the perceived "homeless problem" - rolling up our sleeves and building relationships that inspire lasting change with our brothers and sisters in need.

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Mark C. Rohlena is president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.

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