“Put a pot of coffee and a pot of soup on the stove, open the door, and God will take care of the rest.”
That Dorothy Day quote is the motto of Sister Maureen, the only employee of the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. The House provides temporary housing and support services for homeless families in Memphis. It is the only shelter in Memphis where families including both parents or teenage boys are allowed to stay together, and the only one without a time limit on how long a family can stay. In addition to the immediate needs of food, shelter, and clothing, the Dorothy Day House works with each family to set goals of self sufficiency. Educational resources, job training, financial planning, childcare assistance, tutoring, transportation, and permanent housing assistance are just some of the holistic services offered by the House to support and prepare families for the transition to self sufficiency. Even after the family leaves the house they are supported by the staff and volunteers, who offer assistance with any issue threatening the family’s independence.
I met Sister Maureen at the house’s Sunday evening prayers, where she hosts volunteers and family members that wish to join. Over spice cake and coffee, she tells the story of how the house began. In 2002, a small prayer group began to conceive of the ministry they wished to create to serve the city of Memphis. Through much discernment, they came to the writings of Dorothy Day, a pioneer in social justice, and founder of the first House of Hospitality in the 1930’s. With Peter Maurin, Day was co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, a completely volunteer based organization that provided food, clothing, and shelter to the poor and homeless. Now, there are more than 200 institutions nationwide providing social services in accordance with the catholic Worker principals, including many “houses of hospitality.” The prayer group decided to open one in Memphis and through charitable donations was able to purchase a house on Poplar in 2004. The house opened to residents in 2006, and has served three families at a time ever since.
As Sister Maureen shows us the family portraits that line the walls of the dining room, it is clear that she and the volunteers she relies on have saved lives with the work they do. Families make their way to the house in different states and through different circumstances, but whether they are dealing with generational poverty, trauma, a lack of education, or some other difficulty, the house provides a safe place for the family as a whole to recuperate and re-establish their independence.
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