By Debbie Shelley
The Catholic Commentator
The St. Vincent de Paul Society on Convention Street is a beehive of activity of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, with people coming to receive assistance from the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless, the dining hall, or its pharmacy or shelters, as well as volunteers coming to assist them. Trucks also make deliveries from Flowers Baking Company next door.
Bishop Robert W. Muench prays at the groundbreaking for the expansion of the Bishop Ott Sweet Dreams Shelter for homeless women and children.
But the loudest noise there on March 24 seemed silent in comparison, the landing of holy water on dirt sprinkled by Bishop Robert W. Muench to celebrate the groundbreaking of the expansion of the Bishop Ott Sweet Dreams Shelter for homeless women and children, said Michael Acaldo, president and CEO of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He referred to the bishop’s comment, “See it works” when the other noises stopped at that moment.
Now there will be a new noise added unto the others – the rebuilding of hope and lives of homeless women and children as SVDP increases its capacity to serve them.
The expansion is expected to double the number of beds in the shelter, from 36 to 72, plus 16 cribs, said Acaldo. It’s expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Acaldo said that the nine new rooms in the Sweet Dreams Shelter will be like “mini hotel rooms” with their own bathrooms.
“Nothing fancy, but when you have nowhere to call home it’s important to have somewhere safe to go to get out of the elements,” said Acaldo.
He stated the shelter is always full, and last summer’s floods left the inventory of affordable housing at an all time low, increasing the urgency for shelter for the increasing number of homeless women and children.
“As soon as we help someone to move out of our shelter and into a new apartment or living situation, there is another family waiting for that room. We desperately need these additional beds to meet the needs of our community,” said Acaldo.
SVDP is taking a leap of faith by starting construction, as it is $119,000 short of the funds needed for the $1 million expansion. The organization has raised $978,000 with the help of a $200,000 grant challenge from the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation. An anonymous donor has also agreed to provide $50,000 to buy beds and furnishings for the shelter.
However, the flood drove up the cost of construction beyond the original budget. Acaldo said SVDP is depending on the generosity of the community to help close the gap.
But even more than the “brick and mortar” aspect of the building, Acaldo said he is excited that SVDP will be able to do more in its social services and spiritual ministry.
“We are a spiritual organization in what we do,” said Acaldo. “It’s really putting our faith in action and growing as a result of doing so … All of the volunteers have recognized that we are called to remember the forgotten, which is a charge to us given by Christ.”
Acaldo referred to Matthew 25, in which the nations are separated one from another, as a shepherd separates sheep from the goats. The ones who served Christ by serving “the least of these,” are rewarded, while those who did not are punished.
“Jesus made it clear that the poor would always be with us, the work is never done,” said Acaldo.
This brings up the question, “How much and how far are you willing to go for the Lord?” said Acaldo.
He noted that some of the women coming into the shelter “beat themselves up” over things they have done in the past.
“They are ashamed and embarrassed and see those negative things,” said Acaldo … “They’ve done some things they are not happy about and they want to get away from it. We want to help them get away from that and get a fresh perspective.
“Even if they don’t respect themselves and can’t look in the mirror, we keep working with them doing what’s necessary so they can see the good things we see in them,” Acaldo said.
Some women may simply need help with getting a job and others may need help with mental, medical and other services. Acaldo said SVDP works with them on different solutions until they can take the next step of getting their life on track.
Acaldo said he appreciates the support SVDP receives from Bishop Muench, who has helped them celebrate the start of many projects over the past 15 years. He said the bishop’s father served many years with SVDP in New Orleans, so he has a keen understanding of its mission.
“He will ask, ‘What’s next?’ That shows the mission of Jesus is never done,” said Acaldo.
Next issue the Catholic Commentator will feature the lives of two women who have been positively impacted by the Sweet Dreams Shelter.