Petula Dvorak: Don't forsake homeless in gay nuptials fight

By Petula Dvorak
Friday, November 13, 2009

In the gray rain -- where the only burst of color comes from the flash of an ambulance scooping up someone who is cold, sick and wet -- threatening to shut a door is the cruelest answer.

"They want to stop helping us?" asked the woman tucked completely inside her wet jacket.

She is staying at the nearby John Young women's shelter run by Catholic Charities on First Street NW. She'd heard that the Church is threatening to stop taking millions of dollars of the District's money for services such as this shelter, adoption and medical care unless the D.C. Council changes the same-sex marriage bill it is preparing to pass next month.

For folks on the street, those words are nothing more than the sound of a door slamming shut.

"I hear they gonna put us out," she told me.

"I don't get it. What do gay people have to do with the shelters? They're the Church; that's what they do. They help. That don't make no sense," the woman said.

That's right.

By trying to play political hardball with the District, no matter how carefully they word their objection to the bill, officials at the Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities are telling our city's most vulnerable people -- homeless families, sick children, low-income mothers -- that they are willing to throw them on the table as a bargaining chip.

What the Church is doing is an uncharitable and cruel maneuver.

Amid a recession and on the cusp of a winter that is expected to be harsh, the number of homeless women and children in the city "is skyrocketing," said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) when he spoke at a panel on homelessness this week.

According to the Interagency Council on Homelessness, 434 families in the District are on a waiting list for emergency shelter. This number jumped by about two dozen in just one week. For most people working in this field, it is the highest number in recent memory.

Catholic Charities runs nine homeless shelters using at least some money from the city. This is not a time to threaten any of the services those provide.

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