Daughters of Charity driven – and drive – to help poor
The sign outside the office door of Daughter of Charity Sister Kathleen Driscoll reads, “Thank You for Being a Friend to the Poor.”
Helping the downtrodden is what Sister Kathleen does five days a week through Depaul USA’s ministry of transportation and housing at the Rebuild Center on St. Joseph Church’s campus in New Orleans.
On a recent morning, she explained to Michael, 57, a self-proclaimed Christian who recently came to New Orleans from the northeast, to meet her Monday at 6:30 a.m. so she could drive him to the St. Vincent de Paul free pharmacy that opens at 8 a.m. He needed to fill prescriptions obtained at LSU Medical Center for mental and physical ailments. She would also take him to get new eyeglasses the following week.
“You get here at 6:30 a.m.?” Michael asked her. “You get up early to do the Lord’s work.”
Fulfilling specific needs
Depaul USA – part of the Vincentian family of which the Daughters of Charity belongs – is one of three nonprofits at the Rebuild Center on St. Joseph Church’s campus on Tulane Avenue. The Harry Tompson Center and the Presentation Sisters’ Lantern Light are others that provide such services as ID assistance, daily lunch, showers, laundry, legal and medical services and more.
Depaul USA has been at the Rebuild Center for three years, first inquiring in late 2011 about unmet needs for the homeless, said Sister Kathleen.
"At that time, the unmet need was transportation,” she said. Since Feb. 13, 2012, Depaul USA has transported more than 700 individuals to appointments (for eyeglasses, prescriptions, immigration services and health care).
“What keeps us going is homelessness has no place,” said Sister Kathleen, a nun for 48 years who has been a teacher in Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia; director of a deaf ministry in Baltimore; and most recently executive director of Catholic Charities in New Mexico for six years before coming to New Orleans.
"I was very interested in working with folks who were homeless,” she said. “My gifts are in direct service.”
Depaul USA’s ministry expanded recently after Unity of Greater New Orleans gave a $180,000 renewable grant to provide Rapid Rehousing and case management for 15 chronically homeless individuals. A total of 16 individuals have been housed. Rapid Rehousing is for up to 12 months, after which clients work with Unity to transition into permanent housing.
Sister Kathleen says the success of the housing program has everything to do with weekly follow-ups with individuals to check progress, which lessens the loneliness felt when off the street.
Caregivers can’t think “‘we’ve got this person housed and our job is over’ because it’s not,” she said. “There are just so many facets to it. Whatever the individual need is, we try to help them.”
Every day varies
After assisting Michael, Sister Kathleen picked up John Dyer, 55, at the pharmacy. Dyer lost his housing in New Orleans, Alexandria and Slidell from Katrina and later storms. He left his job and returned to New Orleans to care for his ex-wife. When she died in October, he began rebuilding his life when health care problems surfaced. He recently had a stroke.
“With the help of the Rebuild Center, I’m getting my health under control,” he said, adding that new glasses, job placement, prescriptions and current identification are services he’s made use of at the Rebuild Center. “It’s been so helpful,” he said.
“We all had a piece of John,” Sister Kathleen said. “It shows how our services complement each other.”
Depaul USA received a second grant from Unity for 10 permanent supportive housing slots, bringing the total housing allotments to 25, Sister Kathleen said. Dan Swain was recently hired by Depaul USA to follow up on housing clients.
Working with Depaul USA in New Orleans is more than a job.
“It’s a day spent interacting with people who, at a time in their lives, find themselves homeless, down on their luck and needing someone to listen to them,” Sister Kathleen said. The charism of St. Vincent de Paul – he and his sister St. Louise de Marillac co-founded the Daughters of Charity – was placing religious on the street to meet people’s needs and not be cloistered.
“I am gifted every day by people at the Rebuild Center,” she said. “I never leave here sad. ... The joy and positiveness of the people we deal with are a gift to me.”
Depaul USA is looking for volunteers to go in pairs to visit clients. Gift cards also are always welcomed. For details, call 273-5561.