Shelterhouse: Housing. Help. Hope.
Blandina Segale’s personal motto, “Do what presents itself …,” has been a source of inspiration for many Sisters of Charity. With those words close to her heart, five years ago S. Katharine Pinto found herself joining the board of Shelterhouse, a nonprofit organization in Greater Cincinnati that provides a refuge of care and compassionate assistance for women and men experiencing homelessness with a goal of moving them into permanent housing.
As a member of its program committee, S. Katharine says her time with Shelterhouse has opened her mind to just how many people in the Greater Cincinnati area are homeless. “I was not aware of how vast the problem is and how easily one circumstance in your life can change you from having a home to being homeless – a medical bill, an addiction, a divorce, a mental illness; various things can abruptly change a person’s living situation. In addition there is a lack of affordable housing that makes it difficult for people to get into more permanent housing.”
Shelterhouse has two facilities: The Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women and The David and Rebecca Barron Center for Men, which now has been expanded to include a year-round emergency shelter for additional overnight guests. Programming is also offered to assist clients with housing, case management, medical care and mental health services. Part of S. Katharine’s responsibilities include talking directly to the clients to learn more about their concerns and how the organization can improve. “Because it is important to have input from our residents, the board members take turns conducting monthly resident council meetings and then reporting back to the board and director the information gathered from these meetings so that we can meet the needs of our residents to the best of our ability,” she said.
Her passion for serving the homeless has only grown as she now also volunteers twice a week at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry on Bank Street. There she walks with visitors through the pantry, helping them to select the appropriate groceries for their family. Both service experiences have given S. Katharine the opportunity to see firsthand the appreciation and gratitude individuals have for the services provided as well as inspired her to involve more Charity Family members.
In January Advisory Committee members for the Sisters of Charity Office of Peace, Justice and Care for Creation took a tour of The Esther Marie Hatton Center. Associates Debbie Weber, director, and Rita Wesseling, Patty Broughton, Irene Diesel and Jan Metz learned more about the services provided and the facility’s mission. Described as inviting, peaceful and safe, the group enjoyed seeing how helpful and uplifting the environment was for its guests. The staff is committed to helping their guests learn to help themselves through a community-minded approach.
“I was grateful for the experience,” said Patty, “but I was also overwhelmed by the need for a shelter like that. It makes your heart ache because of all these women. You look at them and they smile, but you have no idea the horrors that they’ve gone through or why they’re there. But you know they are desperate. And the number was overwhelming to me. It brought back the idea that we need to do something – and we can do something.”
The visit inspired committee members to think of new ways to help, which will include a Lenten collection of laundry detergent and toothbrushes. Irene added, “The experience hasn’t left me. I’m still thinking about it. It’s not something that you can go to, see and walk away. I think that our responsibility as members of the OPJCC Advisory Committee is to tell our story to as many Associates as we can.”
Blandina’s words continue to touch the hearts of those who follow in her footsteps. Advisory Committee members were quick to point out that they were moved by the plaque they saw hanging in the entryway of the women’s shelter. It is a tribute to S. Blandina Segale and the Sisters of Charity. Seeing that plaque, and knowing the courageous and dedicated S. Blandina, the women were energized and open to new possibilities to serve others and do whatever God presents.