The Washington Roman Catholic Archdiocese will open a new, pilot facility for street people this fall that is designed to transform homeless men into productive members of society.
In what church leaders say is the first effort of its kind in the country, the new transitional shelter, to be called McKenna House, will offer personal and job counseling, medical care, educational development and large doses of moral support, as well as bed and board, to 100 candidates selected each year from the estimated 5,000 to 9,000 homeless in the nation's capital.
"We believe, based on experience providing shelter to the homeless and our consultations with others working in this area, that there are a significant number of men who, with practical support and competent services, can make the transition from homelessness to a more independent life," Archbishop James A. Hickey said at a press conference yesterday.
Homeless men need more than a bed," said Hickey, speaking over a chorus of saws and hammers as the rehabilitation of the building at 1501 Park Rd. NW progressed."They need a second chance. McKenna House will be that second chance."
He called the program "an important sign of Washington's commitment to really deal with homelessness."
McKenna House is named for the late Horace McKenna, a Jesuit priest who spent much of his life working with the homeless. It will be staffed by three brown-robed Capuchin Franciscan friars who have been working in more conventional shelters operated by the archdiocese in preparation for their new assignment.
Friar John Pfannenstiel said the McKenna House program was aimed at "the large numbers of invisible homeless," whom he described as "generally young, emotionally and physically capable of living independent lives" but who have suffered "a series of misfortunes"--job loss, family upheaval or other tragedies that have overwhelmed them.
"They need a base from which to put it all back together," said Pfannenstiel.
Candidates for McKenna House must be 18 or older, homeless and, in the opinion of the agency referring them, capable of living independently, Pfannenstiel said. They will live in the center for three or four months. During that time, the program will help them look for jobs and housing and will provide emotional and social counseling, Pfannenstiel said. It will also provide such basics as clean clothing for job interviews and a home address and phone number to write on job applications. Religious affiliation will not be a factor in a candidate's selection for the program.
Hickey said the "total start-up costs" of McKenna House, which is slated to open Nov. 27. exceed $500,000, and will have an annual operating budget "in the $63,000 range." Catholic Charities is cooperating in the program.
The Rev. Joaquin Bazan, pastor of Sacred Heart Church which is located across the street from McKenna House, said he did not anticipate neighborhood opposition to the rehabilitation center. "We are happy to see people living here instead of just an empty building," he said.
John Carr, archdiocesan secretary for social concerns, said that in addition to launching McKenna House, Washington area Catholics will continue to operate six other more conventional shelters, including two in the District for homeless women and a family shelter in Prince George's County.