Charlie Bean has lived at St. Dempsey’s Charities since 2012. He describes being “down and out” when he first came, a result of living on the streets of St. Louis.
“I was strung out, stressed out and didn’t know if I was going to make it to the next day,” he said. He had a rough life — addicted to heroin, he stole to support himself and went to prison, then returned on a parole violation. In 2006 he came out of prison, got a job and stayed out of trouble but his life was unstable.
Now, Bean is healthy and staying off drugs and alcohol. He can “see ahead to the next day,” he said, and is closer to Jesus. “I want to stay moving ahead, and I owe it all to the people here,” he said, adding that the staff of Father Dempsey’s act as God’s hands.
Bean visits the chapel at Father Dempsey’s every day to talk to Jesus. “I wasn’t doing that before,” he said. “So I confessed to God, asked Him to protect me and show me the right way to go. I think that’s what He’s doing.”
Since 1906, Father Dempsey’s Charities has provided transitional housing and a safe place to give a fresh start to men without a home. Today, the agency gives up to 78 residents a place to live and help with daily nourishment, getting a job, obtaining needed medical treatment and accessing government benefits available due to military service, age or disability. The average length of stay is two years.
The staff, Bean said, showed him there’s a better way to proceed than breaking rules and getting into trouble. Age 70, he is retired now and helps out at Father Dempsey’s by working at the front desk.
Meanwhile, Jason Stern came to Father Dempsey’s a year ago. He has a talent for art and worked for seven years using his artistic abilities. After being laid off, he worked for AT&T as a cable splicer. He earned a good salary and had a nice apartment Downtown.
His alcoholism led to cirrhosis of the liver, and because of his health problem, he couldn’t work anymore. He couldn’t pay his mortgage and stayed with a friend before becoming homeless.
“This place has been nothing but good for me,” Stern said. “I’m thankful to have a roof over my head and a chance to start over.”
He’s helping by brightening the surroundings, painting murals on walls on each floor, adding inspirational words and Scripture quotes. Father Dempsey’s also has helped him get in touch with his spiritual life.
Sam Irons, a retired St. Louis police officer, became Father Dempsey’s executive director in January 2017. He’s earned the men’s trust, letting them know he wants them to do better and transition to a better phase of their life.
Irons said he is comfortable in the job in part because police officers are used to befriending homeless people they meet so often on the streets and are present to help people who are experiencing some of their worst moments.
In his new role, “we’re here to help,” Irons said. “This is a place where people can get up on their feet, make adjustments in life. They’re treated with compassion, that’s our main concern.”
Irons brings the compassionate response from working previously with Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. He takes what he’s learned from Archbishop Carlson and Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso and applies it. “It really works when you treat people with kindness,” Irons said. “You never know what people are going through.”
It’s a challenge because many of the people Father Dempsey’s serves have a history of drug abuse, alcoholism and/or have spent time in prison. No one is accepted who has committed a sex crime because the home is located near a school.
The majority of residents work outside the home. Others do jobs such as work at the front desk, cook or do maintenance at the home. “These are some wonderful men here. A lot of them are just down on their luck or made bad choices in life,” Irons said.
The community, particularly the Catholic community in St. Louis, plays a big part in the success of Father Dempsey’s Charities. Students and staff of Chaminade College Preparatory School prepare and serve breakfast on Saturdays and students from St. Louis University prepare and serve dinner some nights. McBride and Son Homes and Caritas Connections Inc., a group of volunteers coordinated by members of St. Gerard Majella Parish, are among the regular supporters.
A St. Louis University graduate teaches a computer class to residents and a social worker from SLU visits to assist the men. Residents struggling with addiction issues are linked with treatment centers; alcohol and drug use is prohibited at the home.
“This is a great place,” Irons said, giving credit to Archbishop Carlson and Msgr. Dennis R. Stehly, vicar general of the archdiocese, for their support. “It’s all about taking care of one another.”
The rewards are great, Irons said. “There’s nothing that God can’t do to help these men.”
Dempsey’s Charities transitional housing in St. Louis offers affordable
room and board to men seeking a stable environment as they transition
to independent living. Residents have a key to their own room. The
home’s chapel is open to residents at all times.
Sam Irons, the
current executive director, followed Martie Aboussie, who led the agency
for 15 years. The founder, Msgr. Timothy Dempsey, was known nationwide
for his work with the poor. Msgr. Jimmy Johnston and Msgr. Charles
Mottin, the next two priests, also served long stints as head of Father
Father Dempsey began the charity as a hotel for working
men 55 and older who were traveling for work and later providing meals
to the unemployed. The residence became known as Father Jim’s Home
during Msgr. Johnston’s leadership. He and Msgr. Mottin were known also
for a rummage store that supplied some of the funding for the home.
Individual and group volunteers are welcome to help at Father Dempsey’s. For information, call (314) 535-7221.
Father Dempsey’s does not receive government funding. Donate online at www.stlouisreview.com/jvL or by mail to Father Dempsey’s Charities, 3427 Washington Ave., St. Louis MO 63103.