Article by Claudia Kittock, photos by Rick Kittock
Editor's note - This is the fourth in a series of articles spotlighting local nonprofits.
On a cold Thursday morning, I traveled to the Catholic Charties Opportunity Center. It’s a short walk from our neighborhood, but is a place that seems as invisible as the people who use the services. I didn’t know it was there until recently, and was mortified that I had overlooked this vital part of our city. It is a nondescript building on the busy corner of Chicago and 17th, but the work that happens inside saves lives and supports people experiencing homelessness.
I spent some time talking with Melvin, who uses the services there. Melvin served in the Army right after Vietnam and spent most of his life working. When the economic downturn of 2008 happened, Melvin found himself laid off and without any prospects for employment. He came to Minneapolis because he had heard there were jobs here.
Melvin worked at a temp job when he got here and was laid off from that, but then found a job that lasted for 5 years. When he was laid off this last time, he needed a ‘safe place to think’ and found that at the Opportunity Center. Melvin talked about the need for more centers to help people who need a hand up and the support he has found here. As he said, “People here tell you the truth.”
Sponsored by Catholic Charities, the mission statement is “Every person who comes through our doors is on a journey.” I saw that clearly during my visit. People often come to the Center when the shelters are closed during the day. Most shelters open around 4 or 5:00 p.m. and then close again between 7-8:00 a.m. In between those times, there is nowhere to go. The Center is a place to get a breakfast and/or lunch and to find rest from a day of wandering the city, waiting for a place to sleep for the night.
Catholic Charities serves those most in need. For almost 150 years, they have served the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community. Today, they are the largest comprehensive social service nonprofit in the metro area. The focus of the services they offer is found in 17 locations and through 39 different programs. Catholic Charities provided more than 467,000 nights of housing and emergency shelter in 2016.
People experiencing or at risk of homelessness can find meals, shelter, help finding jobs, securing a stable home, and medical care at places likes Dorothy Day Center, Higher Ground, the Family Service Center, and the Opportunity Center. The St. Joseph’s Home for Children offers help and support to children and their families who need a nurturing environment, comfort in crisis, and mental health counseling. Catholic Charities also helps refugees work towards independence by reuniting families and providing assistance as they settle into their new lives. Older adults and people with disabilities will also find help in living independently in their homes, as well as connecting homeless elders to housing.
There are many, many success stories. Billy Joe has gone from addiction and homelessness to living in his own place with a commitment to living a healthful life. Habon and Mohamed were able to rent a home with help from Catholic Charities. It is the first for their 3 children who had spent their entire lives in refugee camps. Wade is one of the hundreds of homeless vets who was able to move into an apartment of his own, thankful he won’t be out in the cold and snow another winter.
“I know I’m going to be a good cop.
I try to be objective. I don’t like to take
sides on anything. Before I judge someone,
I try to get to know them first.”
Every day, many different community organizations come to the Opportunity Center to provide a wide array of services. The Center is responsible for serving 100,000 meals a year, as well as offering dental care, foot care, legal consultations and veteran services. The Culinary Skills Program serves about 60 people every year. Many of these students are people currently experiencing homelessness, and in this class learn cooking skills as well as employment training to help them find a way out of poverty.
I met Brice several years ago at Higher Ground. He has lived there for several years. An incredibly intelligent, kind, sweet man, this 36 year old Navy vet has already graduated from Minneapolis Community and Technical College and is attending Metropolitan State University, completing the next stage of his journey to become a police officer. Brice and I spent our morning runs talking about schoolwork, papers he was writing, and tests that were coming up. As Brice said, “I know I’m going to be a good cop. I try to be objective. I don’t like to take sides on anything. Before I judge someone, I try to get to know them first.”
Catholic Charities is a group that offers help to people who are looking for a way up! They provide people with the support needed to make the changes that will allow them to become self-sufficient. Catholic Charities and the Opportunity Center work! How can you help?
· Learn more about the work being done: https://www.cctwincities.org/
· Become a volunteer: https://www.cctwincities.org/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities/
Melvin, Brice, Billy Joe, Habon and Mohammed are all working toward self-sufficiency because of the support of Catholic Charities. Please be part of their journeys and the journey of so many others. Help make Minneapolis the first major city to eradicate street homelessness!
Claudia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org