Over and over, Sandra Ware described herself as grateful. That’s because she’s gone from homelessness to a spot in St. Patrick Center’s Women’s Night Program.
“My prayers were answered to have shelter,” Ware said. “That’s how I got here.”
She’s grateful for the new private dorm-style room to stay in; that she doesn’t experience hunger; for help in getting identification paperwork; and for taking part in an occupational therapy class and spirituality group for women at St. Patrick Center
Susan Dublo arrived recently after living two weeks on the street and then staying at a homeless shelter in Granite City, Illinois. “It was cold. I thought I was going to die. I’m too old for that,” said Dublo, who is originally from Houston.
She’d been staying with and caring for an elderly relative in Illinois and lost her housing when he died. She’s taking it one day at a time, seeking permanent housing and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, spirituality group gatherings and other programs. She referred to the night program manager, Brandy Cheatham, and other staff as angels.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit a year ago, the women in the night program moved to the former Little Sisters of the Poor building with separate bedrooms run by the City of St. Louis. Up until then, the women were housed on the second floor of St. Patrick Center in one large room and slept on cots within close proximity.
“It definitely wasn’t a good environment during COVID times,” said Anthony D’Agostino, chief executive officer of St. Patrick Center.
The Catholic Charities of St. Louis agency applied for funding from the City of St. Louis through a federal program related to
COVID-19 assistance, which allowed the facility to be renovated to include individual dorm rooms at St. Patrick Center. Construction ensued from October to March, and women staying at the temporary location were moved back to St. Patrick Center April 15.
Capacity was increased from 20 to 30. Most have their own room, though a few share space in larger dorm rooms.
Six office spaces also were created in St. Patrick Center’s client welcome center, where new clients are greeted and their needs assessed. Previously, cubicles were not ideal for confidentiality. An official opening of the night program and welcome center was held May 19.
Two years ago, city grants for the night program ceased, and St. Patrick Center continued it with other funding because it has been a key part of the mission since 1988. This year, funding through the city returned. “That was tough on the organization financially to continue the program. But we made a commitment. Our community has such a need for this niche-type programming,” D’Agostino said.
St. Patrick Center, as a federated agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Helping the vulnerable
The night program serves women who deal with mental health issues, often co-occurring with substance abuse issues. Some other shelters won’t serve similar clients. They’re vulnerable out on the streets.
The average stay is 120 days, with a goal of moving to another program that includes an apartment or a transitional facility.
The renovation makes a big difference for the clients and staff. Security cameras help monitor hallways and daily operations, and new washers and dryers are conveniently located.
Everyone rises at 6:45 a.m., and breakfast is 8:30 a.m. Many attend the center’s Shamrock Club where they meet with caseworkers and therapists and do meditation. Others are working at a job or looking for work or housing. They return at 4:30 p.m. Dinner is between 5:30 and 6:30. Bedtime is at 10.
An emphasis is placed on addressing barriers to permanent housing. Sometimes it involves taking care of past utility bills or working with landlords who rent to people with past evictions or a criminal history. St. Patrick Center funds clients’ first month rent and a security deposit.
The longer a woman has been homeless, the harder it is for her to adjust and trust the process. “Sometimes it’s a hard time peeling those layers back and getting them to trust,” Cheatham said. “Unfortunately some leave before we can do that because they’re not used to rules, being in at a certain time. We let them know we’re here if they decide to come back.”
About half the clients come through the center’s street outreach team.
Staff show people compassion and understand their journey. “We let them know at every turn we are here to transform their lives, that they are not their past,” Cheatham said. “We provide Christ-like love, and we’re not here to judge them. That’s our mission — to continue to transform lives.”
She’s had a few people who want her to pray with them, and she’s happy to “provide that vessel.”
The success stories abound. One is a woman named Pam, who previously was a donor to programs such as St. Patrick Center. Struggling with a lifetime of mental and physical abuse, she was evicted and joined the Women’s Night Program. She overcame depression and anxiety and is reunited in Portland, Oregon, with her adult children and works as a nurse at a Veteran’s Administration medical center. Cheatham paid for Pam’s plane ticket herself and St. Patrick Center funded the shipment of her possessions. “We’re super proud of her. That perseverance paid off. There were days she wanted to give up,” Cheatham said.
Two other clients who have been with St. Patrick Center and have made progress, DeeAnn Phillips and Karen Baybo, also sing its praises. “This place means the world to me. It helped me make something of myself,” Phillips said.
Baybo said the night program has helped her get her life back on track after a serious accident. “St. Patrick Center took me under its wings,” Baybo said. “They give people a chance to to get better physically, mentally, emotionally as they put one foot in front of the other.
Noelle Williams, who works during the day at a Downtown restaurant and is seeking housing, pointed to a number of ways she’s been helped. Perhaps her favorite part though, she said, is simply going to her room and resting in a comfortable bed.
>> Volunteers help
Diane Barone stopped by St. Patrick Center’s Women’s Night Program as scheduled to deliver the evening meal, prepared by herself and two friends.
On the menu: orange-glazed meatballs, rice, garden salad, and cheesecake with a strawberry topping.
Barone’s been a volunteer for about three years, joined by her friends. They help once a month, and this is the second month back after the program reopened at St. Patrick Center after having shifted temporarily to a different location due to the pandemic. Barone, a parishioner at Ascension in Chesterfield, and friends haven’t returned to serving the meals yet, but look forward to doing so soon.
“The women are so appreciative, and it’s wonderful to hear their stories,” Barone said. They were thrilled when her son made fleece scarves for them a while back.
Barone read about former night program client Kim Reifschneider, who was featured in the St. Patrick Center newsletter and a St. Louis Review article about Reifschneider’s new residence, part of the Tiny Houses Project. “She is so incredibly sweet,” Barone said. “I actually had tears in my eyes when I read the story about her. She has her little home now. I’m so happy for her.”
Volunteers are needed to plan, prepare and serve dinner at the Women’s Night Shelter each evening. A group of three to six people choose the menu and provide the meal (not a casserole, since that is offered at lunch). All shifts must be pre-scheduled. The cost of the meal is on the volunteer group. The opportunity is from 5-7 p.m.
Donations of hygiene products and other items also help the night program.
To volunteer or to donate, visit www.stpatrickcenter.org or call (314) 802-0700.
>> Women’s Night Program
St. Patrick Center, a Catholic Charities agency, has operated a women’s night program for 35 years. The clients are women struggling with homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse.
The Women’s Night Program consists of a day treatment program and overnight care, helping women achieve goals and move on to permanent supportive housing.
In addition to providing clients with permanent housing, St. Patrick Center provides wrap-around support services such as job and skills training, employment placement and behavioral health programs. The agency also partners with other St. Louis area service providers to connect people to community resources.