Humility Homes and Services looks toward future
Thirty years ago, the sisters of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary started monthly meetings to explore unmet needs in the Quad Cities. At the time, many religious communities across the country were moving more toward serving the homeless. They chartered a bus to a march in Washington, D.C., focused on the challenges of affordable housing for all.
“We came back, energized more than ever, to get moving,” said Sister Mary Ann Vogel, who wrote a history of her congregation’s start in serving the homeless. “The Sisters of the Humility of Mary gave the ‘dream committee’ authorization to start a transitional housing program for homeless single parent families.”
A new corporation formed. The sisters loaned start-up funds. “In September 1990, the program opened with its new executive director, Sandy Walters, and four young mothers and their four babies,” Sister Mary Ann said.
Ten years ago, the sisters of Humility of Mary heard the same news that others in the community heard – a large organization that served the homeless was closing. The time frame for that closing? Really short – less than one month. The biggest challenges? Loss of direct support for countless people and federal grant money that supported the work of a variety of agencies.
The sisters, with their already established transitional housing program for single mothers and children, decided to take on the challenge. But they were clear – they could not do it without the community’s support.
“This is something we felt called to do,” said Sister Johanna Rickl, now the board chair of Humility Homes and Services, Inc.
For 30 years, the sisters of Humility of Mary have served the homeless. Today, they continue the work, with hope and a mindset of addressing root causes with dignity and care. Last year, all of the housing-related initiatives led by the sisters merged together with a new name. And, as the sisters mark a decade of that leap of faith in 2008 when John Lewis Community Services closed, they are looking forward to the future.
Today, Humility Homes and Services owns 18 properties in Davenport. Those properties include 41 apartments, an emergency shelter, and the 10,000-square-foot Fresh Start Donation Center. They lease an additional 52 apartments. On any given day, 250-300 adults and children participate in their services. They are one of the lead agencies on a new system called Coordinated Entry. It will serve as a single place for people experiencing housing insecurity to access just one place for their needs. They are one of several organizations working to determine a long-term solution for the overnight shelter open just in the winter, and they are navigating the changes in practice being made across the country to try to better serve the homeless.
Ultimately, leaders say, Humility knows that providing housing and supportive services is a smart investment in people and saves taxpayers millions of dollars in health care costs and criminal justice systems.
They also understand that each person, including those who do not have a home, has inherent dignity. “We all have valuable gifts to enrich the community,” Sister Johanna said.
The initiatives of Humility Homes and Services, Inc.
Outreach teams: Teams visit parking lots, abandoned buildings, and encampments making meaningful contact with persons living on the streets, providing emergency supplies.
Service coordination: Staff assist participants identify the most appropriate housing program and support services necessary to help achieve housing stability.
Emergency shelter: A 70-bed emergency shelter serves those 18 years of age and older.
Transitional housing and supportive services for veterans and their families: Provides short- to medium-term housing and support for homeless veterans and their children.
Supportive housing: Assists persons who are living with disabilities and have experienced long-term homelessness with what they need to remain safely housed.
Rapid rehousing: Helps families and single adults to quickly transition from homelessness into their own lease agreements through a holistic approach.
Rent-it-forward: Encourages families seeking minimal, short-term financial assistance and supportive services.
Section 8 plus: Connects with families participating in the housing choice voucher program with access to homes and the service coordination they need to help maintain their housing stability.
Single room units: Six single-room occupancy units for rent within the emergency shelter give participants the benefits of privacy and community life.
Quad Cities Coordinated Entry Partnership: Coordinated entry matches persons at greatest risk of homelessness or experiencing homelessness with the right intervention as quickly as possible. Humility Homes and Services and Salvation Army are among the core partners.
Fresh Start Donation Center and Corner Closet: The volunteer-run donation center helps participants obtain household items, furniture, clothing, and personal hygiene products.
What can you do?
■ Raise your own awareness of what is happening locally with affordable housing.
■ Get to know people whose housing situation is insecure. “It stretches our capacity to touch base with our human compassion,” said Sister Johanna Rickl, board chair of Humility Homes and Services.
■ Learn more about policy and law, such as:
» Adopting community land trust as part of urban revitalization.
» Iowa Code 657A allows municipalities to retain, through eminent domain, nuisance and blighted properties. The properties could then be made available to nonprofit housing developers, with the intention of moving families from unstable housing to home ownership.